The law requires physicians to hand out a standardized brochure on breast cancer treatment options and other useful information to patients upon diagnosis. Some physicians and cancer patient advocacy groups say the law will help patients make better choices about their care.
According to an Alabama Department of Public Health press release, the brochure is available to all physicians on the department's website. The law states that physicians must provide the information to each person under their care who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Hospitals that provide surgeries to treat breast cancer must also provide the information developed by the department.
However, the brochure is not intended to replace the advice or recommendations of a patient’s physician. Instead, it is a resource to help patients learn about breast cancer treatment so that they can make the best choices regarding their own treatment plan, the press release states.
Donald Williamson, state health officer, said the state Health Department is working with the Alabama Hospital Association and other health organizations to let all physicians know how to obtain the brochure.
The brochure lists and explains the most current breast cancer treatments available and the different stages of breast cancer. It also suggests a variety of questions patients should ask their surgeons and oncologists to learn more about their cancer and treatment, such as what drugs they will be taking.
"Many people, when they go to see a physician, they fail to ask questions they need answers to," Williamson said. "By helping people formulate questions, it helps them get a more useful interaction with their physician."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009, the year with the most recent available statistics, 211,731 women in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer. Of those, 40,676 died from the disease.
In Alabama, for every 100,000 women, between 118 and 122 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, the statistics show. Also, for every 100,000 women in Alabama, about 21 women died from the disease.
Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, who sponsored the law, said he got the idea from a constituent. He said she was a cancer survivor who wished she had received more information after her diagnosis. Bedford said his wife contracted cancer later on, which further triggered his desire to pass the law.
"There's just so much information to take into account with cancer," Bedford said. "It just drove home the need to make accurate information available."
Dr. Todd Scarbrough, radiation oncologist at Regional Medical Center in Anniston, said though the brochure is another regulation, he thinks it will be good for patients.
"It's always been an attitude of mine that more information is good for patients," Scarbrough said. "At the very least, I can't think this will be harmful."
Scarbrough said the brochure alone can't replace patient conversations with doctors. Still, he said, with the demand for health care increasing, physicians are more pressured and spread thin and might sometimes not discuss every cancer treatment option available with a patient.
"That will not necessarily lead to bad care, but that might leave out some information for the patient," Scarbrough said.
The brochure could help fill in that information gap, he said.
Jenny Campbell, Alabama government relations director for the American Cancer Society, said her organization was pleased with the law and worked with Bedford to get it passed.
"New patients can be so overwhelmed from the diagnosis that they don't hear all the information," Campbell said. "We feel the more information the better ... and the better the information, the better choices patients can make."
Julie Whatley, a nurse practitioner in the University of Alabama at Birmingham breast center, agreed that the brochure could be useful to patients.
"Cancer treatment varies from person to person so this information can give patients a basic knowledge so when they go to meet their physician to discuss treatment, they can ask better questions than they would otherwise," Whatley said. "Some patients come in very educated, but many others don't."
To read the breast cancer brochure, visit www.adph.org.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.