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J Am Geriatr Soc. 1995 Sep;43(9):979-84.

Older patients' willingness to trade off urologic adverse outcomes for a better chance at five-year survival in the clinical setting of prostate cancer.

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  • 1Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland, USA.



To assess whether patients report a willingness to trade-off urologic adverse outcomes--urinary incontinence and total impotence--for a better chance of 5-year survival in the clinical setting of prostate cancer; and, if so, whether patients' current levels of symptoms of urinary incontinence, impotence, and frequency of sexual activity influence their decisions.


Structured interviews with a convenience sample of male patients.


A university-based Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.


One hundred sixty-three patients seen consecutively in General Medical Clinic at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Portland, Oregon, were enrolled in the study. Mean age of the patients was 65.2 years (SD = 10.6, range - 35-84); mean level of formal education completed was 13 years (SD = 2.7, range = 5-19).


In a hypothetical clinical setting of prostate cancer, patients were offered a choice of two procedures--Treatment A (surgery: worse short-term, better long-term survival) and Treatment B (radiation therapy: better short-term, worse long-term survival)--with varying benefit/risk trade-offs in time. Patients were presented with pairs of treatment curves that were developed from research data on survival for surgery versus radiation therapy for stage II prostate cancer confined to the prostate gland. Treatments were not identified to control for labeling effects. Patients were asked their willingness to accept a chance of immediate mortality for better 5-year survival in one of four treatment curve comparisons. Of those who accepted the net beneficial procedure, we then inquired as to whether urologic complications--urinary incontinence and wearing an appliance to collect urine or total impotence--altered the acceptability of that treatment.


Ninety-four percent (153/163) of patients were willing to choose Treatment A (worse short-term, better long-term survival) on one of the four scenarios; the remainder (10/163) were unwilling to take Treatment A (worse short-term, better long-term survival) on any of the four scenarios. Sixty-two percent (95/153) of patients were willing to accept a 100% chance of urinary incontinence; 83% (127/153) were willing to accept a 100% chance of impotence (chi-square = 16.8 with 1 df, P = .0001).


Our results in an older male veteran population suggest than many patients are more concerned with long-term survival in the clinical setting of prostate cancer than with short-term treatment risks. In addition, patients are more willing to accept an impotence outcome than a urinary incontinence outcome, but this result was not related to patients' reported frequency of sexual activity.

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