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Lynne Eldridge MD

Patient Physician Communication Lacking for Lung Cancer

By April 18, 2011

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A diagnosis of lung cancer raises a flurry of questions to be addressed. Not just about treatment options, but about concerns regarding practical needs, emotional symptoms, spiritual concerns, and difficult topics, such as when to consider hospice or draw up a living will. So how well are physicians doing in addressing those questions for people living with lung cancer?


276 people living with lung cancer were asked about their communication with their physician on several key topics. Of the 11 topics considered, physicians received a "low rating" when it came to many important issues. In this study a low rating was defined as a physician having communicated only a little or not at all about the concern. Some of these included:

  • 56% of lung cancer patients gave low ratings for discussions with their physicians concerning emotional symptoms
  • 71% ranked discussion of practical needs low
  • 80% said that spiritual concerns were addressed little or not at all
  • 88% ranked communication about hospice as low
  • 90% felt that communication about a living will -- an important document that ensures that individuals can express their personal desires about care in the event that they can't speak for themselves -- was lacking

It's an important question - and one in which the answer saddened me deeply. Poor patient physician communication can result in emotional distress for people with cancer, and hamper decision making. Yet many concerns are not being addressed.

These statistics are disheartening, but until physicians step up to the plate in addressing the spectrum of concerns and questions that lung cancer survivors live with daily, there is something everyone can do. Ask questions. Expect answers. Ask for a second opinion if you are not getting the answers you need. Join a cancer support group. Research your cancer online on credible sites. For more information, check out:

Photo: National Cancer Institute, Rhoda Baer (photographer)


Nelson, J. et al. Patients rate physician communication about lung cancer. Cancer. 2011 Apr 14. doi: 10.1002/cncr.26152. (Epub ahead of print).

April 25, 2011 at 9:10 pm
(1) kathy joosten says:

Most patients will not DEMAND answers to their questions and question the suggested therapy. the Oncologist are, by and large, only good body mechanics who give little thought to the entire human being. As a matter of fact, most patients will not demand the creation or knowledge of LC support groups which many of the larger cancer centers do not have. Neither the Wellness Community, the local medical center, Los Robles Hosp., not Cedars have an adequate help group

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