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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Rutgers: Study Examines Geriatric Patients’ Beliefs about Cure and Their Impact on Cancer Treatment

Rutgers School of Public Health chair and professor, Dr. Paul Duberstein, was the senior author on two  recent University of Rochester Medical Center studies documenting wide gaps in how older adults with cancer, their caregivers,  and their physicians think about the likelihood of  a “cure.” The studies concluded that physicians need to draw out patients’ emotions and fixed beliefs to avoid miscommunication and help patients gain a clearer understanding of the disease’s likely progression.

The researchers surveyed over 500 geriatric patients (older than 70), their caregivers, and treating oncologists. In one study, the research team discovered a small group of people with incurable cancer who believed there was a 100 percent chance they could be cured.  The researchers found that these patients were more willing to undergo toxic treatments than patients who were less certain of a cure and those who thought they could not be cured. In another paper, the researchers found that most older patients (60 percent) and caregivers (52 percent) have more optimistic views about prognosis than oncologists.

Both studies, which were led by Dr. Melissa Loh from the University of Rochester, highlight the need to improve the ways physicians, patients, and caregivers talk about treatment and prognosis. They found this can be accomplished by physicians asking questions such as, “What are you afraid of?”

Clearer communication and understanding the patients’ beliefs from the beginning can prevent communication breakdowns in the future.