A team of researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston examined hospitalizations and emergency room data for 12,239 women younger than 63 who had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer -- around a third of whom had been treated with chemotherapy.
The researchers found that in the year following the women's initial diagnosis, the women on chemotherapy were much more likely to be hospitalized or go to the emergency room for any cause. Only 42 percent of the women not being treated with chemo went to the ER or were hospitalized, compared to 61 percent of the chemo patients. Most hospitalizations were for fever and infections, or for low blood cell counts and dehydration.
"When we looked at the rates of side effects commonly associated with chemotherapy, we found women experienced more hospitalizations or emergency room visits for these side effects than previous clinical trial would have estimated," says Dr. Michael Hassett, the study's lead author.
In addition to being hospitalized more, the women receiving chemotherapy paid more than $1,200 in extra health care costs compared to non-chemo breast cancer patients, as well as more than $17,000 in extra ambulatory care.
Most American women who receive chemotherapy treatments are being treated for breast cancer, and hospitalizations for side effects related to chemo were previously thought to be rare. Hassett recommends that women and their doctors carefully consider whether or not to use chemotherapy treatment, as the risks can often outweigh the benefits.