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Conference hears of cancer survival confusion

Monday September 20th 2021

Most doctors are struggling to keep up with changes in cancer treatment, a European conference has been told.

Even many oncologists may struggle to give accurate prognoses for cancers, according to a survey reported to the conference of the European Society for Medical Oncology.

A survey, conducted in Ireland, found that on average non-oncology doctors could only provide accurate survival estimates for two out of 12 types of cancer.

Oncologists, however, could only provide accurate estimates for four out of 12 types of cancer when prevented from using their prognostic tools.

The survey involved 300 doctors with no oncology role and 46 medical and radiation oncologists.

As an example, the researchers said doctors "vastly underestimated" survival from stage IV breast cancer.

Researcher Dr Conleth Murphy, of Bon Secours Hospital Cork, Ireland, said: "These results are in line with what we had expected because most physicians' knowledge of oncology dates back to whatever education they received during their years of training, so their perceptions of cancer prognosis are likely to lag behind the major survival gains achieved in the recent past."

Dr Cyril Bonin, a GP in Usson-du-Poitou, France, said: "Amid this growing complexity, an important part of the family doctor's role in a patient's journey with cancer is reformulating information they have been given by their oncologist to give them a better understanding of their situation - and especially when it comes to the newer treatment modes, my experience is that patients don't always understand the difference with conventional chemotherapy.

"More consistent communication with the oncology team about a therapy's expected benefits, possible side-effects and impact on prognosis could help us to guide patients competently and provide the psychological support they need."

* A second study at the conference called for improved care for survivors of cancer.

A German study found that 40% of patients reported cancer related fatigue four years after diagnosis. About a third of these patients said they were getting poor support for their long-term health problem.

Researcher Dr Martina Schmidt, from the German Cancer Research Centre, Heidelberg, said: "Despite increasing awareness of the effectiveness of mitigating measures like exercise to reduce fatigue, patients are still too often left alone to seek help for symptoms that cannot be directly addressed with medicines in the same way as something like pain, for which satisfaction with the support received was high in our study.

"The first step should be to make sure that patients themselves are better informed about these potential issues early on, so they know that conditions like CRF are not only expected, but often manageable and that they should not wait for symptoms to disappear on their own."

Abstract 1723P_PR: Therapeutic nihilism or therapeutic realism: Perceptions of non-oncologist physicians regarding cancer patients' prognosis.

Abstract 1669O_PR: Late effects, long-term problems and unmet needs of cancer survivors.

Tags: Cancer | Europe

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