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Cancer treatment success nearly doubles when equipping patients with info about their disease

Providing cancer patients with information about their disease, its treatment and its impact on work life and education, nearly doubles their chances of a positive treatment outcome, a new study from Birkbeck, University of London has found.

The research, published in BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care, indicates that educating cancer patients helps lower uncertainty and stress, while also equipping working patients with coping strategies during treatment.

The study was carried out by Dr Caroline Kamau of Birkbeck’s Department of Organizational Psychology, who analysed survey data from nearly 3,500 British cancer patients in employment. The data was drawn from the UK Department of Health’s National Cancer Patient Experience Survey, 2013-2014.

Dr Kamau investigated the relationship between the frequency patients received information that increased their understanding of their condition, its treatment and side effects, and the likely impact on their work life and education.

The results showed that:

  • patients who receive information about the impact of cancer on work life or education are 1.72 times more likely to have a positive treatment outcome (defined as completion of treatment with no further signs or symptoms of cancer)
  • patients who receive information about the type of cancer are 1.99 times more likely to have a positive treatment outcome
  • patients who receive information before a cancer-related operation are 1.90 times more likely to have a positive treatment outcome
  • conversely, patients who receive information about the side effects had worse odds of a positive treatment outcome (0.65 to 1)

The results were then corroborated with a secondary analysis of survey data from the wider sample of 6,700 patients (irrespective of their current employment status). Similarly, this showed that preparing patients produces nearly twice better odds of successful cancer treatment.

Interpreting the results, Dr Kamau said: “There are two main reasons why preparing patients seems to produce nearly twice better odds of successful cancer treatment. One is that patient education lowers uncertainty and the stress that comes with not knowing what to expect. Uncertainty is a known stressor that interferes with health therefore reducing it will improve the odds of successful cancer treatment.

“The second reason is that preparation equips working cancer patients with knowledge about good coping strategies, including how to cope with the fatigue that comes with treatment through adjusting work load.”

Commenting on why providing patients with information on side effects worsens the odds of successful treatment, she added:

“Informing patients about potential side effects can trigger unnecessary stress and increase rather than decrease uncertainty. It can trigger unnecessary doubt about the treatment process and make them worry about factors beyond their control. This can give rise to negative coping behaviours that interfere with recovery.”

Looking ahead, Dr Kamau noted some areas of further research which could develop on this study’s findings.

She said: “The results showed good practice in cancer care but we need to ensure that working patients with other potentially life-limiting illnesses are receiving similar support.”

The report, titled Preparing patients with cancer who work and treatment responsiveness is now published in BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care.

 
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