Many patients with advanced cases of cancer do not understand the treatment process and prognosis, a new study has suggested.

Without knowing much about their malignancy and the treatment process involved, these patients — who should have an active part on their health — cannot make informed decisions regarding their health care.

Lead researcher and Weill Cornell Medicine geriatric professor Holly Prigerson noted that many of the patients have fatal, advanced malignancies that continue to progress even after they were given a dose of chemotherapy.

For their study, the researchers analyzed 178 patients with advanced cancer and asked them about what they know and understand about their diseases before and after their cancer staging medical scans. For comparison, the patients were also asked before and after discussion of scan results.

They have found that only nine patients out of 178 understand that they have advanced and incurable cancers and only have a few months to live.

"We were astonished to learn that only 5 percent of this sample had sufficient knowledge about their illness to make informed decisions about their care," said Prigerson, who also directs Weill Cornell's Center for Research on End-of-Life Care. Majority of the patients did not know that their cancer cannot be cured anymore.

The researchers also observed that when life-expectancy discussions with oncologists were done, patients' understanding of their illness dramatically improved. By knowing their prognosis, patients can plan out if they are going to live the remaining days of their lives.

Their observation underlines the need for doctors to learn and improve communication with their patients. Doctors should allow the patients to actively participate in the decision making — even if they are receiving end-of-life care already. Making decisions regarding their health should not be taken away from them even if these patients are nearing their death.

In an earlier report by Tech Times, palliative care is rarely availed because of stigma attached to it, which can be due to the lack of information about these patients' treatment and prognosis.

The study was published in Journal of Clinical Oncology on May 23.

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