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Cancer Center
Undergoing Cancer Treatment

Making Sure Cancer Patients Get the Information They Need

Cancer patients’ information needs seem to differ depending on the type of cancer they have, and clinicians caring for survivors may need to understand those individual needs to better address survivors’ concerns about cancer recurrence, late effects, and family members’ risks.

A three-year study of over 2,000 cancer survivors by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication discovered that, across survivors, the most frequently sought information was about cancer recurrence. But interest in other topics varied by cancer type: breast cancer survivors were more likely to seek information about topics related to late effects and family members’ risks than prostate and colon cancer survivors. The patterns of seeking for these topics also changed over time. For instance, breast cancer survivors were less likely to seek information about their risks of cancer recurrence in later years than during the first year after their diagnosis.

The findings, reported in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, are important because understanding how people seek cancer information during their cancer survivorship is a crucial factor as clinicians help to address their patients’ physical and emotional issues.  Clinicians may need to intervene at distinct points during the cancer survivorship period with timely information to address their patients’ concerns about cancer recurrence, late effects, and family members’ risks.

The researchers, Andy Tan (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute), Rebekah H. Nagler (University of Minnesota), Robert C. Hornik (Annenberg School, University of Pennsylvania), and Angela DeMichele (Abramson Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania) surveyed over 2,000 cancer survivors three times over a three-year period (2006 to 2008). The participants were survivors of colon cancer (males and females), breast cancer, and prostate cancer.  They were, on average, in their early 60s, and the survey population was split evenly between men and women.

Across all participants, reducing the chance of cancer coming back was the number one researched subject in all three surveys. Cancer type was related to survivors’ information seeking patterns over time.  Although breast cancer survivors were more likely to seek information about survivorship topics earlier in their trajectory, their seeking declined over time. In comparison, female colon cancer survivors were more likely to seek information about certain topics than female breast cancer survivors in later years. The researchers surmised this may be due to the ample amount of breast cancer information readily available and the existence of robust survivorship organizations to support breast cancer survivors.