Helping Men Decide on the Prostate Cancer Treatment That Is Right for Them

September 10, 2014
Christina Izzo

New research suggests that men who aren't well educated about their prostate cancer have a much more difficult time making treatment decisions.

Alan Kaplan, MD

New research suggests that men who aren’t well educated about their prostate cancer have a much more difficult time making treatment decisions.

Study author Alan Kaplan, MD, a resident physician in the UCLA Department of Urology, said this research should serve as a wakeup call for physicians, who can use the findings to target men less likely to know a lot about their prostate cancer and educate them prior to their appointments so they’re more comfortable making treatment decisions.

“For prostate cancer, there is no one right answer when it comes to treatment. It comes down to the right answer for each specific patient, and that is heavily dependent on their own personal preferences,” he said.

“Men in general, and specifically economically disadvantaged men, have a hard time deciding what their preferences are, how they feel about any possible complications and what the future after treatment might be like. If you don’t know anything about your disease, you’ll have a really tough time making a decision.”

For the study, a research team at UCLA surveyed 70 men at a Veterans Administration clinic who were newly diagnosed with localized prostate cancer and had enrolled in a randomized trial testing a novel shared decision-making tool. They collected baseline demographic and clinical information, such as age, race, education, coexisting medical conditions, relationship status, urinary and sexual dysfunction, and the patients’ prostate cancer knowledge.

Kaplan said the team found that a low level of prostate cancer knowledge was associated with increased decisional conflict and higher uncertainty about what treatment to choose. Low levels of prostate cancer knowledge also were associated with lower perceived effectiveness—meaning the less they knew about their cancer, the less confidence they had that the treatment would be effective.

“Knowledge about prostate cancer is an identifiable target. Interventions designed to increase a patient’s comprehension of prostate cancer and its treatments may greatly reduce decisional conflict,” Kaplan said, adding that further study is needed to better characterize this relationship and identify effective targeted interventions.

Kaplan said economically disadvantaged men may be having more difficulty because they may not have as much experience negotiating the healthcare system and are less confident when communicating with doctors.

“Doctors, we know intuitively, should spend more time with their patients, especially when they’re making an important decision,” he said. “But all of us are challenged with the numbers of patients we must see in a day. If you know beforehand that a patient has a poor knowledge about his cancer, that’s someone you need to spend more time with.”

The findings from the 1-year study were published in the September 1, 2014 issue of Cancer.