Why healthy patients refuse drugs that reduce the risk of cancer

Would you take a pill every day to reduce the risk of breast cancer?

That’s a question Tara Parker-Pope asks in a recent blog entry. Referring to Tamoxifen, a drug that’s been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer in high-risk women, she notes that a substantial number said they wouldn’t take the drug after hearing about the side effects:

Just 6 percent said they would consider it after talking to their doctors, and only 1 percent reported actually filling a prescription for it. Fully 80 percent cited worries about side effects.

In other words, the benefit of the drug, namely, a marked reduction of breast cancer risk in susceptible women, was markedly outweighed by the small chance of side effects.

The same type of thinking applies to those who oppose childhood vaccines. One interesting reason is so-called “omission bias,” where, “people are more concerned about losing something than they are about gaining something.”

Because of this, researchers are convinced that large numbers of healthy women who can benefit from the drug, will refuse to take it.  You can blame human psychology.

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  • Samantha

    You can also blame capitalism… too many drug companies, medical doctors, lawmakers influenced by big pharma’s BIG BUCKS. Too many prescription drug ads claim a zillion benefits only to be recalled years later.
    The FDA lets drug companies run the show and advertise as they wish.
    I’d rather exercise, eat fresh whole foods, get annual physicals/preventative tests and take responsibility for my health instead of thinking a financially motivated drug company has my best interest at heart.

  • Sarahw

    Are you kidding me? Tamoxifen side effects are treated a little lightly by this author.

    The article referenced is a little more upfront – and points out that when the NUMBERS are laid out for patients they often decided the benefit isn’t worth the risks.

  • AnnR

    It’s been my observation that women with a lot of nodal involvement take tamoxifen or their AI inhibitor pretty religiously. They know their risk is high.

    Tamoxifen is a $4 generic and is offered to almost every women who has a passing experience with breast cancer even if their ongoing risks aren’t high.

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