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J Clin Oncol. 1995 Apr;13(4):858-68.

Patient preferences for treatment of metastatic breast cancer: a study of women with early-stage breast cancer.

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  • 1Comprehensive Cancer Center of Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, USA.



The purpose of this study was to elicit preferences for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer in women with early-stage breast cancer who were given hypothetical treatment scenarios. We predicted that quality of life, demographic, and treatment variables would have an impact on patient preferences.


One hundred fifteen patients with stage 1-IIIA breast cancer were interviewed. All patients had either mastectomy or lumpectomy plus radiotherapy as primary treatment. Sixty-seven (58%) had prior adjuvant chemotherapy. Patients were given four clinical scenarios that described a woman with metastatic breast cancer who was stated to have a life expectancy of 18 months. Side effects of the treatment options were systematically varied from low (hormonal therapy) to life-threatening (high-dose experimental therapy) and were consistent with common clinical situations. Patients were asked to select which treatment, with its associated toxicity, they would accept and prefer for a 50% chance of specified increments in life expectancy, ie, 5 years, 18 months, 1 year, 6 months, 1 month, and 1 week.


Quality of life at the time of interview, previous chemotherapy treatment, and degree of difficulty of previous treatments did not predict patient preferences. The greater the toxicity potential of the treatment, the less likely patients were to accept the treatment, although approximately 15% of patients would prefer high-risk treatment for as little as 1 month of added life expectancy. Between 34% and 82% of patients would prefer different therapies for a 6-month addition to life expectancy, whereas almost all patients would accept treatment for a 5-year increase in length of survival. Younger patients were more willing to assume the risks of treatment for a small increase in life expectancy. Of note, between 54% and 78% of patients would elect to start the different treatments even without symptoms related to metastatic disease. Moreover, 76% of patients would prefer standard treatment or an experimental agent to reduce symptoms or pain, even if such treatment did not prolong life. Additionally, only 10% of patients would allow randomization to a clinical trial comparing high-dose with standard chemotherapy. Participation in the study was not distressing to most patients.


Patients showed clear preferences for specific treatments for metastatic disease when given hypothetical scenarios. There was a wide range of patient preferences for treatment based on risk-benefit assessment, but a substantial percentage of patients would accept the risk of major toxicity for minimal increase in overall survival.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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