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Supportive care of women with breast cancer: key concerns and practical solutions

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Due to a steady decline in breast cancer mortality rates and increasing longevity, about 176 556 Australians diagnosed with breast cancer in the preceding 29 years were alive in 2010.1 About 16 000 new cases of breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in 2016, of which most women will be cured.2 To achieve the current 90% 5-year disease-free survival, a variety of treatments are employed, including surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, biologic therapy and endocrine therapy. However, as a result of these treatments, a large cohort of women (and some men) is living with the after-effects of either the diagnosis of or treatment for breast cancer. Some of these patients may have significant supportive care needs for many years after their diagnosis, and a range of clinicians may be involved in their care.3 Some patients with metastatic breast cancer also live for many years and may share these supportive care needs.

Supportive care of these patients aims to alleviate the burden of cancer treatment or of cancer itself, from diagnosis to the end of life, irrespective of whether the cancer has recurred or not.3 The physical and psychological morbidities associated with treatment have long term impacts on role functioning at work and at home. Good supportive care can aid in the management of a range of problems that are experienced…