Doctor-patient communication about breast cancer adjuvant therapy

L. A. Siminoff, J. H. Fetting, M. D. Abeloff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

199 Scopus citations


Candidates for breast cancer adjuvant therapy must not only grapple with the concept of micrometastatic disease, but often must consider the benefits and risks of clinical trials and alternatives. We studied 100 consecutive patient-physician encounters about adjuvant therapy to determine how well we informed patients about benefits and risks and how clearly we recommended treatment. Evaluation included observation and audiorecording of encounters, patient- and physician-completed questionnaires, and patient interviews. Patient-physician agreement on the benefits and risks of adjuvant therapy was poor. Sixty percent of patients overestimated their chance of cure by 20% or more compared with the physician. Poor agreement was partially explained by the observation that patients and physicians exchanged little specific information. Furthermore, decision-making was compressed. Although this was the first meeting with a medical oncologist for 79 patients (79%), 82 (82%) made final decisions about treatment by the end of the meeting. Physicians clearly identified their recommended treatment. Patients generally followed the physician's recommendation, except when clinical trials were recommended. Only 45% of trial-eligible patients chose to participate in offered trials. Physician recommendations of clinical trials were not as effectively communicated as nontrial treatments. Nonstandard adjuvant regimens, similar to the experimental arm of some ongoing randomized trials, were recommended to 30% of patients, especially those with a poor prognosis. In essence, physicians acted as if the trial question was answered, thereby diminishing enthusiasm for the trial. The widespread recommendation of nonstandard regimens similar or identical to the experimental arms in ongoing trials suggests a serious lack of consensus on what questions to ask in clinical trials and whether or not those questions have been answered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1192-1200
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Clinical Oncology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Jan 1 1989
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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