Beating the Odds: Text messages decrease drug 'dropouts'

CENTER CITY (WPVI) -- We do a lot through text messages these days.

They remind us of appointments, connect us with friends everywhere, and alert us to the latest news.

A Philadelphia researcher also believes they could help women trying to Beat the Odds Against Breast Cancer.

Karen Lees is a real survivor.

"I have the BRCA 2 gene," says Karen, a Northeast Philadelphia resident.

He's had breast cancer twice, and after each, took medication to keep the cancer away.

There were few side effects with the first, but the second one, Arimidex, was hard to take.

"First waking up in the morning, it took a while for my body to be able to move," says Karen.

Kuang-Yi Wen, Ph.D. of Jefferson Health's NCI-designatedSidney Kimmel Cancer center, says Arimidex is one of the aromatase inhibitors.

They suppress estrogen, preventing many cancers from returning.

"The studies show it can reduce recurrence up to 35 to 45 percent," Dr. Wen says.

But the side effects cause 30 to 60 percent of women - especially minority women - to stop taking them in the first year.

"In addition to joint pain, there are hot flashes, sleep problems, cognitive, cognitive decline," says Dr. Wen.

In a pilot study, Dr. Wen found that supportive text messages kept more women on the drugs.

The texts offered coping tips, and reminded them of the importance of the medications.

60% of the volunteers took their drugs every day, and - dealt with side effects better.

"Their quality, or quality of life was better compared with control group," she noted.

Early next year, a larger study of 300 women will begin, with new components, such as smart pill bottles.

Dr. Wen will also begin studying tai-chi to reduce the joint pain, inspired by her own mother's struggles.

Karen's ready to sign up.

"I would love that. that's so good for you," she says, smiling.

Action News will have an update on this story when Jefferson Health opens recruiting.
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