WEDNESDAY, Oct. 15, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A Medicare subsidy program makes it more likely that breast cancer patients in all racial and ethnic groups will continue hormone therapy after surgery for their cancer, a new study found.
"Patients are more likely to take their medications if they are able to afford them," said lead author Dr. Alana Biggers, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
"Our study shows that federal policy interventions that help cover out-of-pocket costs have the potential to reduce the breast cancer outcome gap by race and ethnicity," Biggers said in an ASCO news release.
The study will be presented at an American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting in Boston on Oct. 17 and 18.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 23,000 early stage breast cancer patients who were enrolled in Medicare Part D and began hormone therapy (with tamoxifen, anastrazole, letrozole or exemestane) within one year of cancer surgery.
Of those women, 27 percent were in the Medicare Part D Extra Help low-income subsidy program. That program reduces or eliminates out-of-pocket costs for hormone therapy. Those costs ranged from $155 to $428 a year, on average.
Seventy percent of black patients and 56 percent of Hispanic patients were in the Extra Help program, compared with 21 percent of white patients, according to the study.
In the first year of hormone therapy, overall adherence rates were similar across all races -- with around two-thirds of women taking hormone therapy as directed. However, racial and ethnic differences in adherence rates were seen among women who weren't in the Extra Help Program -- 62 percent adherence for whites and 55 percent for Hispanics and blacks, the study found.
For those in the Extra Help program, adherence rates were 71 percent for whites, 71 percent for Hispanics and 67 percent for blacks, the researchers reported.
Overall, the number of patients who continued hormone therapy in the second and third year after surgery decreased, but the decline was smaller among women in all racial and ethnic groups in the Extra Help program.
Findings presented at meetings are generally considered preliminary until they have been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about hormone therapy for breast cancer.
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