Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Many With Incurable Cancer Think They Can Be Cured

Majority of Advanced Cancer Patients Believe Chemotherapy Can Cure Them
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 24, 2012 -- It is not a desired discussion for the doctor, and certainly not for the patient. But an overwhelming majority of people with advanced cancer are under the impression that the chemotherapy they are receiving will cure their disease when it likely will not, a new study shows.

In these scenarios, chemotherapy can alleviate pain and extend life by weeks or even months. It can’t cure advanced cancer.

The disconnect may be related to how doctors discuss treatment options with people who have advanced cancer, and/or the people receiving this news may be in a state of denial about their illness.

Researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston interviewed 1,200 people with metastatic colon or lung cancer -- cancer spread to distant organs -- about their chemotherapy. Almost 70% of people with advanced lung cancer and 81% of those with advanced colorectal cancer inaccurately believed that chemotherapy could likely cure them.

The findings are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Tough Conversations to Have

“We were surprised at the extent of the findings,” says researcher Deborah Schrag, MD. She is an oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “Chemotherapy can be terrific and can be curative in some situations, but not in these cases.”

Still, “a minority of patients did get it,” she says. “In some physician-patient pairs, these conversations work and are necessary to help people make good choices and plans.”

It is a communication issue and probably also a psychological issue. “This is hard stuff to talk about and we need to find ways for people to talk about it better.” She suggests bringing someone with you to all doctor’s visits, and writing things down.

Other tips include asking direct questions of your doctor. These include:

  • What are the benefits of this treatment for me?
  • What I can expect from these treatments?
  • What is the chance of this treatment curing my cancer?

Thomas J. Smith, MD, co-authored an editorial accompanying the new study. “At every transition point, the oncologist should ask what you already know and what you want to know about your illness and your situation,” says Smith, who is the Harry J. Duffey Family professor of palliative medicine at Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center in Baltimore.

Today on WebMD

Colorectal cancer cells
New! I AM Not Cancer Facebook Group
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Ovarian cancer illustration
Real Cancer Perspectives
Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
what is your cancer risk
colorectal cancer treatment advances
breast cancer overview slideshow
prostate cancer overview
lung cancer overview slideshow
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
Actor Michael Douglas