Doctor communication key to managing breast cancer patient risk worries

February 3, 2017

Doctor communication key to managing breast cancer patient risk worries

U-M Health Lab

Nearly one-third of early stage breast cancer patients overestimate their risk of cancer recurrence — believing it to be more than double their actual risk. And that overestimation is affecting their quality of life, according to two recent studies.

The good news? A more nuanced approach to doctor-patient communication may help improve patients’ understanding.

Researchers from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center identified two demographically diverse groups of newly diagnosed breast cancer patients in Georgia and Los Angeles County. The project involved mailing surveys to women with favorable-prognosis breast cancer, either ductal carcinoma in situ or early stage invasive breast cancer, about two months after diagnosis. These surveys were done in two phases, which resulted in two samples for analysis.

“Only 9 percent of patients said that their physician talked about risk a lot, and 14 percent reported no conversation about risk at all,” explains IHPI member and study author Sarah Hawley, Ph.D., M.P.H., professor of internal medicine at U-M. “Knowing how important it is to patients, we can do better. Physicians and breast cancer clinicians need to pay special attention to talking to patients about risk of recurrence and how possible treatments being offered may influence risk, and then follow up to be sure they understand.”

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