Skip to content

    Cancer Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Many With Incurable Cancer Think They Can Be Cured

    Majority of Advanced Cancer Patients Believe Chemotherapy Can Cure Them
    By
    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

    man holding lung xray
    What you need to know.
    stem cells
    How they work for blood cancers.
     
    woman wearing pink ribbon
    Separate fact from fiction.
    Colorectal cancer cells
    Symptoms, screening tests, and more.
     
    Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
    Blog
    what is your cancer risk
    HEALTH CHECK
     
    colorectal cancer treatment advances
    Video
    breast cancer overview slideshow
    SLIDESHOW
     
    prostate cancer overview
    SLIDESHOW
    lung cancer overview slideshow
    SLIDESHOW
     
    ovarian cancer overview slideshow
    SLIDESHOW
    Actor Michael Douglas
    Article