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Discharge to Primary Care for Survivorship Follow-Up: How Are Patients With Early-Stage Breast Cancer Faring?

Cindy Railton, Sasha Lupichuk, Jennifer McCormick, Lihong Zhong, Jenny Jaeeun Ko, Barbara Walley, Anil A. Joy, and Janine Giese-Davis

Purpose: Oncology centers in public health systems often transfer routine follow-up of patients with early-stage breast cancer (BC) to primary care physicians because of the increasing numbers of survivors and evidence supporting the safety of this practice. After transfer of care, it is unknown how BC survivors fare with treatment and surveillance goals, and whether they have unmet needs for access to specialist care. This study conducted in a sample of women in Alberta, Canada, examined adherence with follow-up guidelines, symptoms, and need for a telephone-based survivorship clinic. Methods: Through the Alberta Cancer Registry, we randomly invited women with stage I–III invasive BC (N=960) to participate. Of those, 272 responded, and 240 consented to a structured telephone interview and chart review. Results: Women adhered well to follow-up guidelines for mammogram, but less so for clinical examination and endocrine therapy (ET). However, most patients reported ongoing bothersome symptoms, which tended to be higher in those not on ET. More than one-third of patients reported ongoing needs (managing weight, side effects, exercise adherence, and psychosocial health). Younger, fatigued or depressed, nonurban women not on ET reported the most need for a telephone clinic. Conclusions: Adherence with follow-up goals (examination, mammography, ET) was better than expected. Despite this, interest in a telephone survivorship clinic was high. Perceived needs included symptom management plus support for lifestyle behavior change. Medical follow-up needs might be well-met by discharge to primary care. However, high levels of ongoing symptoms and psychosocial needs would suggest that telephone-based survivorship clinics, psychosocial and exercise interventions, or transition programs might benefit the survivorship experience of patients with BC.