The findings of a national study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, demonstrates that a relationship between navigators and the initiation of certain recommended treatments in breast cancer may lead to better outcomes. The study showed that patient navigation – linking a newly diagnosed cancer patient with a professional trained in assisting patients though the complex journey of cancer diagnosis and treatment – , may especially lead to better breast cancer care in high risk and minority women.

Using data from a previously published, multi-center study funded by the National Cancer Institute, researchers aimed to identify the possible benefits of assigning patient navigators to women recently diagnosed with breast cancer. According to the results, women were more likely to start recommended treatment when assisted by one of these trained specialists. They were, for example, more likely to start hormonal therapy, which is considered the gold standard in treatment for certain types of breast cancer.

Understanding where patient navigation is most beneficial in cancer care, in order to help the neediest patients, is a rich topic for future research…

Benefit of patient navigation
Naomi Ko, MD, MPH, instructor of medicine in the Section of Hematology Oncology at Boston University School of Medicine and a practicing breast oncologist at Boston Medical Center, stresses the need for further investigation. “This study gave us a glimpse of the potential benefit of patient navigation but there’s a lot more research to be done. At this point we still need to understand how or why patient navigation works. Understanding where patient navigation is most beneficial in cancer care, in order to help the neediest patients, is a rich topic for future research,” Ko said.

Overcoming obstacles
Navigators are experts in helping patients overcome the numerous obstacles they face, including monetary difficulties, transportation issues, educational and even language barriers, and have become an integral part of the cancer care model. It has been known that minority and high risk patients, or those who may benefit most from these navigators, often have worse outcomes after diagnosed with cancer.

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For more information
Ko NY, Darnell JS, Calhoun E, Freund KM, Wells KJ, Shapiro CL, Dudley DJ, et al. Can Patient Navigation Improve Receipt of Recommended Breast Cancer Care? Evidence From the National Patient Navigation Research Program. J Clin Oncol. 2014 Jul 28. pii: JCO.2013.53.6037. [Article][PubMed]

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