Uninformed Breast Cancer Patients Are Making Treatment Decisions

Diana Kwon

May 11, 2022

Women with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) breast cancer are generally uninformed about their diagnosis and are making uninformed treatment decisions, according to results of a study presented this month at ESMO Breast Cancer 2022, an annual meeting of the European Society for Medical Oncology.

The standard of care for women diagnosed with DCIS includes surgery with or without radiotherapy – even low-risk patients who are increasingly being steered toward active surveillance with annual mammograms. But few patients understand their diagnosis well enough to make informed decisions about treatment, according to a study led by Ellen Engelhardt, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at The Netherlands Cancer Institute, Amsterdam.

“You’re not able to really have an informed preference until you understand the choices,” she said.

Engelhardt and colleagues surveyed 200 patients (mean age 59 years) from the LORD study, which is currently underway at The Netherlands Cancer Institute. The women were asked to complete a survey before treatment decisions were made. Their objective was to determine how knowledgeable patients were about DCIS. They found that only 34% of women answered four out of seven questions correctly: 19% of patients believed that DCIS could metastasize to organs other than the breast; 31% did not realize DCIS could progress to invasive breast cancer if left untreated; 79% thought DCIS could always be seen on mammograms; and, 93% said that progression could always be detected before it becomes “too extensive.” Knowledge of DCIS was found not to be associated with patient education level.

Susie X. Sun, MD, FACS, a breast surgeon at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, said the findings clearly highlight a disconnect in communication between doctor and patient.

“I was surprised, because this clearly demonstrates there is a disconnect between what patients are being told by their providers and what is being perceived. It really shows us that we need to do a better job of making sure that our patients understand the information they’re given,” she said.

Sun, who was not involved in the study, said that DCIS needs to be explained well to patients. When they receive a diagnosis, often all they hear is, “I have breast cancer. It is really important for us to stress to patients how DCIS is different from invasive breast cancer,” she said.

The “Management of Low-risk (grade I and II) DCIS (LORD)” study is one of three studies comparing active surveillance to surgery (with or without radiotherapy).

A limitation of the study presented at ESMO Breast Cancer is that it remains unclear why patients answered questions incorrectly. Was information never communicated to them? Or, did they mishear or misunderstand the doctor? In future studies, Engelhardt and her colleagues plan to record and analyze audio tapes of consultations to determine where the communication disconnect lies.

Engelhardt did not disclose any conflicts associated with this work.

This story originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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