Purpose: Most women with breast cancer are diagnosed at an early stage and more than 80% will be long-term survivors. Routine follow-up marks the transition from intensive treatment to survivorship. It is usual practice for routine follow-up to take place in specialist clinics. This study tested the hypothesis that follow-up by the patient's family physician is a safe and acceptable alternative to specialist follow-up.
Patients and methods: A multicenter, randomized, controlled trial was conducted involving 968 patients with early-stage breast cancer who had completed adjuvant treatment, were disease free, and were between 9 and 15 months after diagnosis. Patients may have continued receiving adjuvant hormonal therapy. Patients were randomly allocated to follow-up in the cancer center according to usual practice (CC group) or follow-up from their own family physician (FP group). The primary outcome was the rate of recurrence-related serious clinical events (SCEs). The secondary outcome was health-related quality of life (HRQL).
Results: In the FP group, there were 54 recurrences (11.2%) and 29 deaths (6.0%). In the CC group, there were 64 recurrences (13.2%) and 30 deaths (6.2%). In the FP group, 17 patients (3.5%) compared with 18 patients (3.7%) in the CC group experienced an SCE (0.19% difference; 95% CI, -2.26% to 2.65%). No statistically significant differences (P < .05) were detected between groups on any of the HRQL questionnaires.
Conclusion: Breast cancer patients can be offered follow-up by their family physician without concern that important recurrence-related SCEs will occur more frequently or that HRQL will be negatively affected.