Many Advanced Cancer Patients Lack Info About Their Disease

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Many Advanced Cancer Patients Lack Info About Their Disease
Many Advanced Cancer Patients Lack Info About Their Disease

TUESDAY, May 24, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Many patients with advanced cancer lack basic information about their prognosis or treatment, according to a study published online May 23 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

"These were people with highly lethal metastatic cancers that had progressed after at least one prior line of chemotherapy; their life expectancy was approximately four months from our interview," lead researcher Holly Prigerson, Ph.D., a professor of geriatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, said in a Cornell news release. "We were astonished to learn that only 5 percent of this sample had sufficient knowledge about their illness to make informed decisions about their care."

In the study, Prigerson's team compared 178 advanced cancer patients' understanding of their disease before and after they underwent medical scans to stage their cancer. The researchers also did the same comparison before and after the patients discussed the scan results with their oncologists. Before their scans, only nine of the patients understood that they were at the latter stages of an incurable cancer and had just months to live. "Many did not know that they were at the end stage of their illness or that their cancer was incurable. They were basically making treatment decisions in the dark," Prigerson explained.

But there was good news, too: The findings "show that when advanced cancer patients reported having recently discussed their life-expectancy with their oncologist, their illness understanding improved significantly," Prigerson said. "That information may also help patients prioritize how they wish to spend the last few months of their lives. Treatment choices patients make might follow from these priorities."

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