A recent report found that breast cancer treatment may hasten death for nursing home residents. Those who live at least a year after treatment often experience a significant downturn in their quality of life.
The report, published in the journal JAMA Surgery in August, raises questions about the value of screening women in nursing homes for breast cancer. Surgery is a common way to treat breast cancer, but doctors should consider alternatives to aggressive treatment, according to the study’s authors.
USA Today reported that nearly 6,000 records were examined of nursing home patients who underwent inpatient breast cancer surgery. Between 31 and 42 percent of the women died within a year of the procedure. By comparison, about 25 percent of all nursing home patients die in a typical year.
Researchers noted that breast cancer often takes a decade to turn fatal, which is longer than the life expectancy for nursing home residents. The study found that nursing home patients with a breast cancer diagnosis are more likely to die from an underlying condition than from cancer itself.
For frail women living in nursing homes, breast cancer treatment can sometimes cause more harm than good. They’re likely to decline rapidly and lose their independence in the year after breast surgery, according to the study.
Loss of independence, quality of life after surgery
As an example, the lead author of the study, Dr. Victoria Tang, cited the case of an 89-year-old woman with dementia. Prior to her mastectomy, she was able to bathe and dress herself. After the surgery, she pulled off her bandages and needed restraints. She died of a heart attack a year later.
“In that situation, was surgery really worth it?” Tang said, according to an article in Medscape.
Breast cancer operations are the most common type of cancer surgery in nursing homes. According to Medscape, they account for 61 percent of procedures. Researchers suggest looking at alternative methods of treating frail patients, including hormonal treatments or treating symptoms as they appear.
The USA Today article states that the American Cancer Society recommends women should be screened for breast cancer as long as they are healthy and expected to live at least another decade – two criteria that many nursing home patients do not meet.
If your loved one is living in a nursing home, it’s critical to think twice before agreeing to any type of aggressive treatment or screening for breast cancer. Fifty-eight percent of the patients who survived a year or longer after the cancer treatment experienced a serious downturn, the report finds. They were unable to perform certain typical daily living tasks, including being able to dress, bathe, eat or walk across a room without assistance.
If your loved one died after breast cancer treatment in a nursing home, take action today. Help hold the responsible parties accountable. An experienced nursing home attorney can help you explore your legal options and determine the best way to proceed. Contact the Law Offices of George S. Johnson today for a free consultation.