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Docs Don't Always Inform Cancer Patients

Docs Don't Always Inform Cancer Patients
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By    |   Monday, 19 June 2017 02:56 PM

At a time when patients with life-threatening cancerneed honest information the most, they can’t rely on their doctors to provide it, a top expert says.

“Patients with advanced cancer need information but they are not getting it because doctors have zero skills in good communication,” Dr. Erika Schwartz tells Newsmax Health.

“Doctors tend to be overly optimistic and patients, when they receive scary information, have a tendency to tune the doctor out.  As a result, the patient cannot realistically evaluate a proposed treatment," says Schwartz, author of the books, “Don’t Let the Doctor Kill You,” and “The New Hormone Solution.”

This problem can also may hamper patients in making decisions to opt for new therapies at a time when new cancer treatments are proliferating, adds Schwartz, who is also CEO of Evolved Science, a concierge prevention medical practice.

A study published last year in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found that only 5 percent of terminal cancer patients had enough information about their illness to make informed decisions and that only 38 percent could ever recall their doctors discussing life expectancy.

“These findings don't surprise me. But it's not only just advanced cancer patients that lack information, this is true for all patients, even those who ask their doctors questions like why they get heartburn," Schwartz says.

But such communication problems can have particularly tragic consequences when it comes to dealing with advanced cancer patients, she notes.

She says the problem starts in medical school, where doctors are taught to focus on information and discouraged from learning to empathize with their patients.

“Medical students are taught that getting emotionally involved with your patient isn't a good thing to do. I agree. But you don’t have to get emotionally involved to be kind,” she says.

“Another problem is that patients don’t realize that their doctors have limited information because our medical system doesn't deal with the whole patient, but is divided into subspecialties,” Schwartz notes.

“The result is that a doctor who works with chemotherapy isn’t going to recommend immunotherapy, and a surgeon isn’t going to recommend a nonsurgical treatment,” she says.

“Also, when they are dealing with terminal cancer, doctors tend to give an overly optimistic prognosis. Since patients, understandably, want to hear the best, the result is they often will opt for treatments, even if they won't do any good,” Schwartz adds.

“For example, a doctor will tell a patient that a tumor has a 25 percent chance of shrinking, instead of a 75 percent chance of it not shrinking. Doctors phrase it that way because they don't want to tell the patient that the treatment isn't going to work,” she says.

 “It’s not about money – it’s because doctors need to believe in what they are selling,” she adds. But the result is that the patient ends up with unrealistic hope, she notes.

“When doctors push treatments that do not extend life, the patient ends up focused on the disease instead of not only getting  their affairs in order, but also to spending time with their loved ones, so they can talk and connect on a heart-to-heart level,” she says.

To get the information they need,  Schwartz recommends that cancer patients bring an advocate– like a spouse, grown child, or trusted friend – along for every doctor’s visit.

“You need a family member or friend or even a doctor who’s willing who is going to go with you and ask the hard questions that need to be asked,” she adds.

Here's where to find good information on cancer treatments:

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Cancer patients can not count on their doctors to give them the information they need to help them make smart decisions about their care, a top expert says.
Cancer, healthcare, decisions, doctors
Monday, 19 June 2017 02:56 PM
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