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Br J Cancer. 2003 Dec 15;89(12):2219-26.

Palliative chemotherapy or best supportive care? A prospective study explaining patients' treatment preference and choice.

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Department of Medical Psychology, Academic Medical Center, PO Box 22700, 1100 DE, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


In palliative cancer treatment, the choice between palliative chemotherapy and best supportive care may be difficult. In the decision-making process, giving information as well as patients' values and preferences become important issues. Patients, however, may have a treatment preference before they even meet their medical oncologist. An insight into the patient's decision-making process can support clinicians having to inform their patients. Patients (n=207) with metastatic cancer, aged 18 years or older, able to speak Dutch, for whom palliative chemotherapy was a treatment option, were eligible for the study. We assessed the following before they consulted their medical oncologist: (1) socio-demographic characteristics, (2) disease-related variables, (3) quality-of-life indices, (4) attitudes and (5) preferences for treatment, information and participation in decision-making. The actual treatment decision, assessed after it had been made, was the main study outcome. Of 207 eligible patients, 140 patients (68%) participated in the study. At baseline, 68% preferred to undergo chemotherapy rather than wait watchfully. Eventually, 78% chose chemotherapy. Treatment preference (odds ratio (OR)=10.3, confidence interval (CI) 2.8-38.0) and a deferring style of decision-making (OR=4.9, CI 1.4-17.2) best predicted the actual treatment choice. Treatment preference (total explained variance=38.2%) was predicted, in turn, by patients' striving for length of life (29.5%), less striving for quality of life (6.1%) and experienced control over the cause of disease (2.6%). Patients' actual treatment choice was most strongly predicted by their preconsultation treatment preference. Since treatment preference is positively explained by striving for length of life, and negatively by striving for quality of life, it is questionable whether the purpose of palliative treatment is made clear. This, paradoxically, emphasises the need for further attention to the process of information giving and shared decision-making.

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