Misunderstanding Prognosis and Test Results

17 January 2017

A study recently published in the Journal of Oncology Practice noted that patients with incurable breast cancer often have poor awareness of their prognosis after oncologist discussion of scan results.

The researchers analyzed audio recordings of conversations between patients and oncologists. They found that oncologists tended to spend more time discussing treatment recommendations rather than scan results and what those results mean for overall prognosis. This is important, because studies have shown that patients with incurable cancer may overestimate their probability for long-term survival and may misunderstand the goals of anti-cancer treatment (prolonging life but not curing disease). Without a good understanding of prognosis and the goals of therapy, patients may agree to treatments that are inappropriately aggressive – inappropriate based on their personal care preferences.

The authors suggested a question: “Would you like to talk about what this means?” as a way to steer the conversation back to prognosis, if the patient was interested in that discussion.

During your conversations with your physician regarding test results, regardless of what type of disease you are being treated for, make sure you are getting the answers you need. And don’t hesitate to steer the conversation yourself, by asking: “Doctor, can you explain what those test results mean?”