Cancer Patients Might Be More Optimistic About Prognosis Than Their Doctors

A small study finds conflicting opinions between doctors and their patients
Doctor reading Xray for prognosis


According to a recent study, the majority of cancer patients believe they will live longer than their estimated prognosis. Researchers found that many patients remain optimistic about their survival chances even after their doctors give them a poor prognosis.

Professors at the University of Rochester Medical Center studied a group of 236 patients in the advanced stages of cancer. The 38 doctors treating the patients estimated that they all had less than one year to live. Despite these dismal odds, the study found that 68 percent of the patients believed that they had a 90 to 100 percent chance of surviving for two years. This was in direct conflict with the opinions of their doctors, who estimated that their patients had about a 10 percent chance of surviving that long.

Physician reading prognosis to a patient


Out of the 68 percent of patients who disagreed with their doctors, only 10 percent told researchers that they did so knowingly. The majority of patients in the study didn’t realize that their opinions and their doctors’ opinions differed.

This is a major issue, according to the study’s co-author, Dr. Ronald Epstein. He says, “When a patient with very advanced cancer says that he has a 90 to 100 percent chance of being alive in two years, and his oncologist believes that chance is more like 10 percent, there’s a problem.”

Lack of Information Leads to Poor Decision Making

The researchers added that optimism isn’t always misguided after a cancer diagnosis. After all, a prognosis is only a rough estimate. However, Epstein says it’s still important for patients to strongly consider their prognosis when they make a treatment plan.

He explains further that patients who ignore or don’t understand the doctor’s prognosis could choose unnecessary, aggressive treatments that won’t effectively treat their cancer. These types of treatments also greatly impact the patient’s quality of life.

For instance, chemotherapy has a number of side effects that affect a person’s quality of life. Nausea, hair loss, fatigue and anemia are just a few of these. For patients who have a promising prognosis, the benefits of chemotherapy may outweigh the side effects. But for patients who only have a few months to live, these symptoms disrupt valuable time with their families and make their end-of-life process far more painful.

Better Communication Is Key

A doctor holds a patient's arm and gives the patient chemotherapy treatment


Researchers suspect that lack of communication plays a role in the differing opinions of patients and their doctors. They recommend that doctors take more time to speak with cancer patients about their prognosis. They warn that if doctors and patients aren’t on the same page, it’s impossible for patients and their families to make informed decisions and prepare for the end of their lives.

For example, the vast majority of the participants in the study told researchers that they would prefer comfort care at the end of life rather than life-extending treatments. And seven out of 10 patients said they would choose supportive or palliative care if they knew they had less than one year to live. But if patients are unaware that the end of their lives might be close, then it’s unlikely that they will make that choice.

Researchers hope that this study will encourage doctors to have clearer, more honest discussions with their patients about prognosis. Doing so may help ensure that patients have all of the information they need to make the best decisions about their care at the end of life.

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2 Responses to Cancer Patients Might Be More Optimistic About Prognosis Than Their Doctors

  1. avatar Wiliam Sanderland says:

    Hello, my name is Wiliam Sanderland, I had cancer, prostate cancer to be exact. The doctors said that if I do not do chemotherapy I will die. However, I was very well informed and I learned that most of the patients who had done chemotherapy died. So this poisoning did not come to my mind. I then had a long time on the web researched and I finally found. I found the website of the therapy center of the Dayeng Foundation. In November of 2016 I had a 14-day therapy in the Therapy Center. I did not have so many expectations but I had nothing to lose. But later my expectations were more than exceeded. About two weeks after the therapy I went back to my doctor in Chicago. The doctor then told me that he can not find any cancer. The doctor asked me if I had done a chemotherapy. I told the doctor that I had done an alternative therapy and the doctor looked like a silly sheep. This doctor said that we should do a re-examination later. But to this day I am free from cancer. This is my story and I thank the doctors of the Dayeng Foundation so much. I had sworn to myself that I would tell many people about it. That is why this text is also here.
    You can contact me, here is my e-mail: If it is possible for me in time, I will answer everyone.

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  2. avatar Kathleen Clohessy (Blog Writer, SevenPonds) says:

    Hi William,

    Thanks so much for your post, and I’m thrilled to hear that you’re cancer free! SevenPonds is not in a position to give medical advice, nor can we endorse a particular therapy or treatment. But we do thank you for sharing your thoughts with our readers.

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