Tuesday, September 10, 2013

And it won't cure you

I wonder how doctors are communicating to patients about the benefits of late stage chemotherapy. A study (because we need more studies) last year showed that 69% of late stage lung cancer patients and 81% of late stage colorectal cancer patients did not understand that their treatment was not likely to cure them. Obviously there is some kind of communication gap here.

The question is are the doctors communicating but the patients aren't hearing it or are the doctors not communicating? I am not too sure.

I think the patients want to hear the good news and may not really hear what the doctors are telling them - that it will only gain them a few more weeks or months of life at best. Would you really want to hear that? Probably not.

Also, the doctors have a fine line to walk. When one treatment stops working or its time to restart treatment due to disease progression, what do they say to the patient? This treatment option at best will last six months and then if your disease stabilizes, you can expect another six months after that? Or do you omit that part?

What do patients want to hear? I have a friend who told her doctors no numbers and didn't know her cancer staging for about three years after diagnosis - even through surgery and chemo. It took her a long time to want to hear.

Another friend is restarting chemo this week. She finished chemo for the third time last November. Her latest PET scan shows progression so her doctor is putting her back in treatment for six months. After three months she will have another PET scan to see if the chemo is working. And then what? If the treatment works she will just wait and have another scan every three months. If it doesn't work, the unsaid will happen. I think she is finally realizing that chemo only buys her more time. But I'm not sure she would admit it.

But if it was you, would you want to know that your treatment will only extend your life for a few more weeks? That it won't cure you? I think I would want to know the numbers and understand that it wouldn't cure me.

2 comments:

Teresa Saum said...

I would definitely want to know.

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