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Informational Needs of Patients with Metastatic Breast Cancer: What Questions Do They Ask, and Are Physicians Answering Them?


In the setting of breast oncology consultations, we sought to understand communication patterns between patients with advanced breast cancer and their oncologists during visits with Decision Support Services. This is a descriptive study analyzing themes and their frequencies of premeditated question lists of patients with metastatic breast cancer. We identified topics physicians most commonly discussed among themes previously found, documenting questions patients with metastatic breast cancer prepare for physician consultations and oncologists’ response. Inclusion criteria were as follows: diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, completion of a question list before meeting with an oncologist, and receipt of a summary of the consultation. We identified 59 women with metastatic breast cancer who received both documents. We reviewed the question lists and consultation summaries of these patients. Of the 59 patients whose documents we reviewed, patients most often asked about prognosis (38), symptom management (31), clinical trials (43), and quality of life (38). Physicians answered questions about prognosis infrequently (37 % of the time); other questions that were answered more than commonly are the following: symptom management (81 %), clinical trials (79 %), and quality of life (66 %). Breast cancer patients have many questions regarding their disease, its treatment, and symptoms, which were facilitated in this setting by Decision Support Services. Question lists may be insufficient to bridge the divide between physicians and patient information needs in the setting of metastatic breast cancer, particularly regarding prognosis. Patients may need additional assistance defining question lists, and physicians may benefit from training in communication, particularly regarding discussions of prognosis and end of life.

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We would like to thank the patients who participated in this study, the observers who collected the data, and the physicians who agreed to have their appointments observed and contribute to the Shared Decision Making Services.

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Correspondence to M. Danesh.

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Danesh, M., Belkora, J., Volz, S. et al. Informational Needs of Patients with Metastatic Breast Cancer: What Questions Do They Ask, and Are Physicians Answering Them?. J Canc Educ 29, 175–180 (2014).

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  • Metastatic
  • Breast
  • Cancer
  • Communication
  • Decision
  • Support