It is — not that it needs to be said — an important decision that people have to make when it comes to choosing a course of cancer therapy that is right for them. But a new study from the University of Colorado suggests that patients aren’t making such decisions with the full facts in mind.
Researchers found that patients who were recently been told that they have prostate cancer didn’t retain the information about treatments, risks, and their outlook on survival provided by doctors.
Instead of keeping these important bits of information in mind, patients are more likely to base their treatment decisions on uncertainty and fear. They take in false knowledge and stories told to them by friends who were once treated for prostate cancer, or knew someone who was treated, before making their decision.
This is not good, because anecdotal evidence and fearful decision making puts a blanket over the hard factual advice given by doctors. The latter is imperative to treatment — and quite possibly for survival.
The study sought to find out what sorts of things influenced a cancer patient’s decision on treatment. For the study, they interviewed 20 men who were recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, aged 54 to 80. The researchers found that the men, in a kind of panic, chose whatever treatment could happen right away, regardless of what knowledge they had about their condition.
Eight men said surgery was best, because they figured it gave the optimum chance at removing all traces of the tumor. Any other treatment was regarded skeptically by the men and believed to be less immediate, more mysterious, and indefinite.
Not a single patient compared the side effects of treatment that can, of course, be significant with cancer therapy. And among the 12, who didn’t want surgeons to remove their prostate, many had false beliefs that both anesthesia and the operation could be very dangerous and possibly deadly, and that recovery would be long and painful. Some participants even believed that should the cancer be exposed to air, it could spread somewhere else in their body — and that surgery would cause impotence.
Nearly every patient knew of friends or relatives who had prostate cancer, and they were far more likely to base their treatment decisions on their stories than on the advice of a doctor. About half of the participants tried to do research on the disease, but they found the information to be confusing and contradictory.
Patients need to understand the misconceptions that float around cancer therapies and doctors need to pay close attention to any fears and outside influences. Every cancer decision should involve three participating groups: the patient, the patient’s family, and the doctor.