Top Stories of 2017: #5 Timely Communication with Doctors about Symptoms Extends Cancer Patients’ Lives

#5 Timely Communication with Doctors about Symptoms Extends Cancer Patients’ Lives

As a prostate cancer patient, there’s often a lot to think about and manage. During treatment, if you experience symptoms or side-effects, one tendency might be to “man up” and just get through it. Turns out that for a number of reasons, that’s not the best idea.

A provocative study at the 2017 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ACSO) Annual Meeting reported that metastatic cancer patients who self-reported their symptoms to their doctors on a weekly basis lived 5.2 months longer on average, likely due to more proactive symptom management.

Dr. Ethan Basch, a medical Oncologist at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, conducted the clinical trial with 766 metastatic cancer patients. Patients were given access to a website to report on 12 common symptoms, and access to a clinical nurse that would immediately follow up with patient issues.

A “lit match analogy is very similar to our patients’ experience with symptoms, said Dr. Monika Krzyzanowska, of the Princess Margaret Cancer Center, who discussed Dr. Basch’s study at this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, “Their symptoms are like little matches, and if we can intervene early, we can put them out before a fire starts.”

Although often under-valued, symptom management is a critical part of cancer care; keeping patients feeling better, more functional, and more self-sufficient, not only increases quality of life, but also extends it.  Studies show that doctors are typically unaware of up to half of patients’ symptoms, leading to delays in symptom management until after symptoms have gotten worse or caused further complications.

While such web-based systems are not yet widely available to patients to report their symptoms to their doctors on a timely basis, timely and comprehensive communication with doctors about symptoms being experienced can be done by the proactive patient or their caregivers regardless. Patients are highly encouraged to use this study as motivation to be advocates for their own care. Timely symptom management will likely extend a metastatic cancer patient’s life longer than almost any prescribed cancer therapy can, and not only without side effects, but the result is to reduce them.

For more detail on this study:

Read all 5 of the Top Stories of 2017