NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 17, 2006

Women with breast cancer ages 64 and younger experience three to four times more serious side effects from chemotherapy than previously hypothesized, according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

According to the researchers:

  • One in six women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer who experience side effects require hospitalization or emergency department care because of the treatment.
  • Some 16 percent of the women were hospitalized for at least one of eight side effects -- including infections, low blood counts, dehydration or nausea. 
  • The most common side effects are infection and fever, which occurred in 8 percent of the women, a rate that is four times what previous reports had predicted.

Other side effects also occurred more frequently than previously reported:

  • For example, 5.5 percent of women had low blood counts that could raise the risk of infection or bleeding compared with rates of 1 percent to 2 percent in clinical trials.
  • In addition, 61 percent of women undergoing chemotherapy were hospitalized for some medical reason -- whether it was chemotherapy related -- compared with 42 percent of women with breast cancer who were not undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

The researchers also reported that women undergoing chemotherapy who experienced side effects spent $16,000 more for outpatient care, $13,000 more for hospital care and $1,900 more for prescription drugs than women undergoing chemotherapy who did not experience such complications.

Source: Lauran Neergaard, "Study: Some breast-cancer patients suffer more with chemo," Associated Press/Philadelphia Inquirer, August 16, 2006; Michael J. Hassett et al., "Frequency and Cost of Chemotherapy-Related Serious Adverse Effects in a Population Sample of Women With Breast Cancer," Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 98, No. 16, August 16, 2006.

For abstract:;98/16/1108


Browse more articles on Health Issues