Oncology clinicians say patients are hesitant to ask whether they are cured, and clinicians are hesitant to tell them they are cured. Annual oncology follow-up was frequently endorsed, even after 20 years of remission.
Use of the word “cure” in cancer care reflects a balance of physician and patient optimism, realism, medico-legal concerns, and even superstition. This study surveyed a group of oncology specialists regarding the frequency and determinants of using the word cure.
Oncology clinicians at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (n = 180) were invited to complete a survey regarding the word cure in cancer care. Participants completed a 19-question survey regarding how commonly their patients are cured, how often they use the word cure in their practice, and details about its use. Three case scenarios were presented to elicit participants' views.
Of the 117 participants (65%) who provided responses, 81% were hesitant to tell a patient that they are cured, and 63% would never tell a patient that they are cured. Only 7% felt that greater than 75% of their patients are, or will be, cured. The participating clinicians reported that only 34% of patients ask if they are cured. For 20-year survivors of testicular cancer, large-cell lymphoma, and estrogen receptor–positive breast cancer, 84%, 76%, and 48% of clinicians, respectively, believed that the patients were cured, and 35%, 43%, and 56% recommended annual oncology follow-up of the patients. Twenty-three percent of oncology clinicians believed that patients should never be discharged from the cancer center.
Oncology clinicians report that patients are hesitant to ask whether they are cured, and the clinicians are hesitant to tell patients they are cured. Annual oncology follow-up was frequently endorsed, even after 20 years in remission.