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ASCO 2015: Discussing Child’s Cancer Prognosis Beneficial for Parents

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Key Points

  • Past data have suggested that some oncologists are reluctant to discuss the details of prognosis with patients and their families, out of concern that it might cause unnecessary anxiety and lead to depression.
  • Among parents whose children had less favorable prognoses, those who reported receiving high-quality information from the medical team gained peace of mind and had greater trust in the child’s oncologist.
  • Researchers acknowledge more investigation is needed to see if the information provided by oncology professionals is fully received and understood by families.

New findings by researchers at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center show that informing parents about their child’s cancer prognosis—even when the prognosis is less than favorable—is much more likely to give parents peace of mind and hope, rather than increase their anxiety or cause them to become depressed. These findings were presented on May 30 at the 2015 ASCO Annual Meeting in Chicago (Abstract 9515).

The research should ease physicians’ concerns that discussing an unfavorable prognosis with young patients’ parents will cause the parents to become despondent or emotionally distraught, the authors said.

“Most agree that patients and families should know as much about their diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis that physicians can give them,” said lead author Jonathan Marron, MD, of Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s. “At the same time, data have suggested that some oncologists are reluctant to discuss the details of prognosis with patients and their families out of concern that it might cause unnecessary anxiety and lead to depression. Our study suggests that such concerns are largely unwarranted.”

Information Is Wanted and Helpful

In the study, Dr. Marron and colleagues surveyed 353 parents of children newly diagnosed with cancer at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, asking about their discussions of prognosis with the child’s oncologist, and whether those conversations had a positive or negative effect.

The investigators found that among parents whose children had less favorable prognoses, those who reported receiving high-quality information from the medical team gained peace of mind and had greater trust in the child’s oncologist. Parents who received more prognostic information were not significantly more anxious or depressed, or less hopeful than those who received less of such information.

“Providing families with a full explanation of the likely course of a disease is critical to helping them plan and to having reasonable expectations about the outcome of treatment,” Dr. Marron said. “More research is needed to determine if the information being provided by oncologists is fully received and understood by families.”

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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