According to a study presented at the World Congress of Psycho-Oncology (WCPO) in late July, 72.3% of patients diagnosed with cancer defer their treatment decisions to their doctor. While this number is not surprising, it is cause for concern.
With a diagnosis of cancer comes a barrage of possible options for treatment. Often, choosing between these options can be overwhelming and intimidating, especially as there is typically not a clear answer and many uncertainties in terms of potential outcome.
How can we help patients navigate these tough decisions, such as whether or not to get a second opinion or participate in a clinical trial? How can we help patients gain the confidence they need and help them feel empowered and in control as they discuss treatment options with their healthcare team?
Helping patients self-advocate
A survey done last year by Patient Power of 1295 chronic cancer patients showed that 73% of those surveyed said the health information they found online helped them feel more confident and more in control of their health (see infographic at the end of this post). Learning about your illness from experts and from other patients can be a rewarding and empowering experience.
Organizations such as the Cancer Support Community (CSC) and others, including us at the Patient Empowerment Network (PEN), offer programs to help patients stand up and advocate for themselves and become informed so that they, in partnership with their heath care team, can make the right decisions for them.
Programs and resources designed to empower patients
The study presented at WCPO found that educational workshops, such as the CSC’s Frankly Speaking About Cancer program, that aim to educate and empower those affected by cancer can have dramatic outcomes in terms of patient confidence in making treatment decisions. In fact, the study found that as a result of attending a Frankly Speaking About Cancer workshop, 85.5% of respondents reported having increased confidence in discussing treatment options and making treatment- related decisions with their health care team. (Harvey, et al 2015)
PEN’s Town Halls and Patient Café programs give patients and carers tools and resources to discuss treatment options, including clinical trial participation, with their doctor and their family and make informed and empowered decisions throughout their illness.
Participant surveys from these meetings are overwhelmingly positive. Over 80% typically rate the event as good to excellent, and many write in emails like the following:
“Thank-you for all you do and have done to help those of us with CLL better understand this journey we are traveling. The information you give is such a great help when I talk with my doctors and just for peace of mind in better understanding what I am facing. Mary”
Answering your questions about clinical trials
In addition to helping facilitate conversations about treatment decisions, PEN offers a comfortable and convenient place to find user-friendly information about clinical trials. One of our goals is to help you understand the process by introducing you to people just like you who have participated in, or are considering participating in, clinical trials. We also offer opportunities to hear from doctors, nurses, caregivers, caseworkers and others about their perspective on what it means to participate in a clinical trial.
Patients helping patients
There are many resources available to help patients navigate their journey and we encourage you to take full advantage of them. If you can’t find what you need, don’t hesitate to reach out to let us know how we can better help you. And, most importantly, please remember, you are not alone. We stand beside you as a community of patients helping patients.