“What prostate cancer patients want” — or is it?

According to preliminary data from a survey of prostate cancer patients in France and the UK, the key finding was that 72 percent of the participants “did not want the treatment for their condition to impact their lives.”

What does this really tell us? That the questions being asked in the survey were poorly phrased? That the results of the survey have been poorly expressed? That only 28 percent of the participants in the survey had realistic expectations about treatment for cancer?

Here are some other “interim” results of this survey:

  • 69 percent of participants wanted both “efficacious treatment” and “a balanced approach to the management of their disease” that minimizes impact on their daily routines and allows them to live to the full.
  • 22 percent are reminded of their condition only when visiting the doctors or receiving their treatment.
  • 78 percent are reminded of their condition on a daily basis.
  • 63 percent share their feelings with their partner, friends, and families.

Perhaps the data from this survey will be more helpful when the complete results are available, together with the precise questions asked, but the immediate take-away would appear to be all the things that this initial announcement does not tell us:

  • How many men participated?
  • At what point in time after their diagnosis were the questions being asked? (We are told only that they were “living with prostate cancer.”)
  • Had the patients been treated or not?
  • How knowledgeable were the patients about the potential consequences of their treatment selection?

When we have an illness of any type — acute (like an infection) or chronic (like diabetes) — it is human nature to want to recover completely and return to “normal.” But the degree to which that is possible depends on the precise nature of the condition. A child who has a cold may well return to “normal” after a few days and forget all about it. Older patients who are diagnosed with a chronic cardiovascular condition or treated for prostate cancer are very rarely going to return, completely, to “normal.” Their illness and its treatment has and will impact their lives to some extent. It is near to inevitable. The critical issue is not whether that will happen — it is to what degree it has happened and will continue to happen.

Obviously, in the words of  Dr. Louis Denis on behalf of Europa Uomo, “Prostate cancer patients deserve a good quality of life, and increasingly desire treatment that enables them to be fulfilled and active, in spite of their condition.” However, prostate cancer patients need to be given realistic expectations about treatments, their possible side effects, and the emotional and physical consequences of their diagnosis and their treatment.

Apparently, an additional survey conducted with physicians attending the European Association for Urology annual meeting over the past few days showed that:

  • 68 percent of their patients frequently talk about quality of life matters during visits to their doctors.
  • For 76 percent of participating physicians, their patients’ ability to “continue with their life” always plays a factor when making treatment decisions.

Again, we have no information about numbers of participants or their nationalities, so it is hard to know what to make of these data or to correlate them in any way to the patient data given earlier.

Finally, the biggest problem we have with these interim data … We are told that this survey was “designed to show how the impact of the disease affects their daily lives; including their mental and physical well-being, relations with their families and carers, and where they seek information and support.” But the data given in this interim report do not appear to address most of these issues. They appear to be focused on some very superficial factors that most certainly do have significant impact on how prostate cancer actually impacts daily life, but which are almost inevitable given a diagnosis of a chronic and possibly life-threatening disorder.

This survey was conducted by a UK-based firm (Opinion Health) with support from a Finnish pharmaceutical company (Orion Corp.).

One Response

  1. Very vague. “Give me quality of life and don’t worry about mortality” appears to be the result of this study.

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