Increasingly, patients with cancer wish to be more fully informed about their disease, treatment and prognosis, and to participate in decision making. The objective of this study was to assess knowledge of diagnosis and goals of treatment among patients with advanced cancer, and also to assess whether this knowledge changed over time. A cohort of 181 subjects with advanced cancer receiving palliative therapies were interviewed at entry and again 12 weeks later. Knowledge of disease diagnosis, treatment intent, and the main sources of information were determined. Twenty per cent of subjects considered their illness to be non-life threatening, and 46% correctly perceived treatment intent as non-curative; 29% believed the intent of treatment was cure. Subjects resident in rural areas were more likely to misunderstand the goal of their treatment. Treatment modality was significantly associated with knowledge of treatment intent, and subjects in the last 6 months of life had clearer understanding that treatment intent was non-curative. Many patients with advanced cancer do not understand the goals of treatment. Excessive optimism may lead to impaired decision making. Further empirical research into information transfer and predictors of accurate patient understanding would assist clinicians in their discussions of prognosis and potential treatment outcomes with patients.
European Journal of Cancer Care Vol. 14, no. 5, p. 417-425