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Two-Doctor Care Best for Breast Cancer Survivors

GP plus specialist helps them stay healthy, study finds

TUESDAY, March 21, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Breast cancer survivors may get better follow-up care when they're looked after by both their primary-care doctor and a cancer specialist, compared to when they see just one physician, researchers report.

"Previous studies have shown that over one-third of breast cancer survivors do not receive adequate annual mammography after treatment, so we know that there are problems with the quality of follow-up care for survivors," study co-author Dr. Kenneth Schellhase, an assistant professor of family and community medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin's Center for Patient Care and Outcomes Research, said in a prepared statement.

"However, the best approach for delivering such care remains unclear," he said. "We wondered whether the specialty of the physician made a difference, so we evaluated mammography use among survivors followed by primary-care physicians, cancer specialists or both."

In their study, Schellhase's team tracked three years of routine follow-up care for more than 3,800 women, age 66 or older, who'd been treated for breast cancer.

About two-thirds of the women received shared specialist/generalist physician care in the three years after treatment.

According to the researchers, that group experienced higher mammography rates in all three years (84 percent, 81 percent and 78.6 percent) than breast cancer survivors cared for by a specialist or generalist alone (76.3 percent, 70 percent and 66 percent).

The study also found that the underuse of mammography among the breast cancer survivors was most common among women with the greatest risk of recurrence -- those treated with breast-conserving surgery without radiation and those with stage II disease.

Screening mammography is believed to be critical for the early detection of either recurrent breast cancer or of new, primary tumors, the researchers noted.

"Our results are encouraging -- that primary care physicians and specialists who cooperate in the care of breast cancer survivors can deliver better quality care," Schellhase said.

The study was published online March 15 in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about follow-up breast cancer care.

SOURCE: Medical College of Wisconsin, news release, March 16, 2006
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