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Many With Incurable Cancer Think They Can Be Cured

Majority of Advanced Cancer Patients Believe Chemotherapy Can Cure Them

Ask, Tell, Ask continued...

David Straker, DO, is often called in when these difficult conversations are had. He is a New York City-based psychiatrist who helps people with cancer cope with their situation. He is also adjunct assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. “A lot of doctors have a difficult time talking about death, and a lot of patients are in denial and just want to be cured,” he says.

It’s no one’s fault, it’s just human nature. “The only way to bridge these gaps is to talk openly and honestly.”

When people hear they have a serious illness like advanced cancer, conversations often go straight to treatment options without discussing quality of life, says Rebecca Kirch. She is the director of Quality of Life and Survivorship for the American Cancer Society.

“There is a clear need to reboot the way we communicate,” she says. “We need to ask what is important to them so they can make decisions about what treatments to pursue and how aggressive they want to be. We need to make sure they know what is involved and what it can do so they don't operate under false assumptions.”

Andrew S. Epstein, MD, agrees. He is an oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City who also teaches medical residents how to talk to patients about cancer. “The data underscore the need to do a better job about understanding who the person is, their knowledge of their medical situation, and their value system,” he says.  


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