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Deconstructing Decisions to Initiate, Maintain, or Discontinue Adjuvant Endocrine Therapy in Breast Cancer Survivors: A Mixed-Methods Study

Shirley M. Bluethmann

Caitlin C. Murphy

Jasmin A. Tiro

Michelle Mollica

Sally W. Vernon

Leona Kay Bartholomew

breast cancer survivors, side effects, adjuvant endocrine therapy, survivorship care, symptoms
ONF 2017, 44(3), E101-E110. DOI: 10.1188/17.ONF.E101-E110

Purpose/Objectives: Adjuvant endocrine therapy (AET) has been shown to improve survival in hormone receptor–positive breast cancer survivors, but as many as half do not complete recommended treatment. Management of medication-related side effects and engagement with providers are two potentially modifiable factors, but their associations with adherence are not well understood. The aims were to build on survey results to qualitatively explore survivors’ experiences with prescribed AET to (a) describe appraisal and management of AET side effects and (b) deconstruct decisions to initiate, discontinue, or maintain AET.

Research Approach: The authors used a mixed-methods explanatory sequence research design with a qualitative emphasis.

Setting: Survivors were recruited from a clinical cancer registry maintained at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, which includes the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center (National Cancer Institute–designated), in Dallas.

Participants: 452 survivors completed a survey, and 30 took part in telephone interviews.

Methodologic Approach: Qualitative methods were used in which the authors recorded and transcribed interviews for analysis and used open coding to reduce data into themes.

Findings: Among adherent survivors, the themes of tolerance of side effects and perseverance were strong. Nonadherent survivors expressed more difficulty managing side effects and perceived fewer benefits when side effects were bothersome. The most common side effects mentioned by all survivors were menopausal symptoms and joint pain; less common side effects were cognitive decline and cardiac distress. Some sought advice from their oncology team. Nonadherent survivors appeared initially motivated to maintain AET but identified a tolerance limit for side effects after which a provider’s recommendation was less influential in their decision to maintain or discontinue AET.

Interpretation: This study elucidated adherence as a complex continuum of behaviors, appraisals, and decision points. These insights may be particularly useful in counseling survivors taking AET and promoting timely delivery of clinical interventions to enhance adherence.

Implications for Nursing: Nurses should be involved in the planning and implementation of clinical interventions to manage side effects and other barriers to AET adherence.

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