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J Clin Oncol. 2002 Jan 15;20(2):503-13.

When the treatment goal is not cure: are cancer patients equipped to make informed decisions?

Author information

  • 1Medical Psychology Unit and Department of Cancer, University of Sydney, and Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. mgat9321@mail.usyd.edu.au



Informed decision making now is considered the underpinning of ethical medical practice. We aimed to determine the extent to which patients with incurable cancer are adequately informed of their prognosis and treatment options and encouraged to participate in treatment decisions.


One hundred eighteen cancer patients with incurable disease presenting for an initial consultation with one of nine oncologists at two Sydney tertiary referral hospitals participated in the study. Consultations were recorded on audiotape to permit a content analysis of doctor-patient interactions. We devised a coding system to assess disclosure of information and to evaluate doctor encouragement of patient participation in treatment decision making. Patient recall, satisfaction, anxiety, and perceptions of the decision-making process were assessed to determine the effects of informed decision making on patient outcomes.


Most patients were informed about the aim of anticancer treatment (84.7%), that their disease was incurable (74.6%), and about life expectancy (57.6%). An alternative to anticancer treatments was presented to 44.1%, 36.4% were informed about how anticancer treatment would affect quality of life, and 29.7% were offered a management choice. Oncologists checked patient understanding in only 10.2% of consultations. Although greater information disclosure did not seem to elevate anxiety levels, greater patient participation in the decision-making process was associated with increased anxiety levels (P =.0005), which persisted over a 2-week time span.


Most patients were well informed, but important gaps remain, especially concerning information about prognosis and alternatives to anticancer treatment. These gaps invite the question concerning whether patients are led toward anticancer treatment.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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