Many cancer patients don’t understand purpose of chemo, study says

People who receive chemotherapy for cancer often misunderstand the role of the therapy in their treatment plan, according to a new study published in the journal Cancer.

For people with cancer, chemotherapy can play different roles. For some, chemo is a way of trying to eliminate cancerous cells from the body, effectively curing the patient. But for many, chemotherapy is just one of many methods to prolong life, with no reasonable expectation that it can or will lead to a cure.

In the study, the authors surveyed 125 recently diagnosed cancer patients and their doctors, looking for an answer to a simple question: Do the patient and the physician give the same answer when asked how chemotherapy can help the patient?

Of the 125 patients, 30 of them -- or 24% -- gave a different answer from their doctor when asked what chemotherapy could do for them, according to a summary of the study.


There were factors that made it more statistically likely that the patient did not understand the treatment’s goals: Senior citizens and non-native English speakers both had 80% lower odds of understanding the doctor’s intent.

On the bright side, people who received printed materials outlining the goals of their care were three times more likely to understand their treatment, suggesting that there are effective ways of communicating health information to patients, even in emotionally difficult situations like a cancer diagnosis.

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