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Improving Doctor-Patient Communication Around Side Effects

Improving Doctor-Patient Communication Around Side Effects
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Published on March 3, 2021

Can Better Doctor-Patient Communication Improve Quality of Life?

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) accounts for approximately one-fourth of all newly diagnosed cases of leukemia in the United States, with most patients treated in community practice settings. A projected 21,040 people will receive a CLL diagnosis this year.1

Physicians sometimes claim that certain adverse events are tolerable. But are they really? For many patients with cancer, the side effects of treatment heavily impact their quality of life. A recent study looked at patients who are in first-line treatment for CLL to see if better communication with their oncologists could prepare them for potential side effects or help them make more informed decisions about their treatment.

In the study, 220 patients and 151 oncologists participated in an online survey where both groups answered questions about treatment outcome expectations relative to adverse events. The study recruited a roughly equal number of patients who were currently receiving or had completed initial treatment, were considered to have relapsed/refractory disease, or were currently untreated or considered “watch-and-wait” patients. All three groups were at risk for atrial fibrillation (rapid and irregular heartbeat), bleeding, joint pain and muscle pain/aches.

Making Informed Treatment Decisions

The study showed that the preferences of patients did not always match up with the recommendations of their oncologists but opened the door for more informed decision-making.2

For example, patients were more willing to accept the risk of adverse effects when treatment increased the likelihood of progression-free survival (PFS) from 75% to 95%. This potential for a better outcome also had the greatest influence on preferences in treatment.

Ultimately, the study demonstrated that improving patient–oncologist communication can lead to more focused discussions on the risks of adverse events as they relate to treatment outcomes and patient goals.

Studies sometimes show that certain treatments buy months but not years for patients, so it is very important to weigh the benefits versus risks when making treatment decisions, especially when the side effects can sideline a patient’s quality of life.

Further studies with a larger patient population will bring more clarity to this issue, but it is clear that the more informed patients are, the more comfortable they will be making treatment decisions.

Ask Your Doctor

You may have questions about your treatment. Be sure to ask the following:

  • What is the stage of my disease?
  • Can I have a copy of my pathology report so I can get a second opinion?
  • Do I need to start treatment right away?
  • What treatment options do you recommend?
  • What side effects should I expect with treatment?
  • Am I eligible for a clinical trial?
  • What will my day-to-day life be like for the next several weeks and months?

~Lauren Evoy Davis


1Key Statistics for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. American Cancer Society.

2Le H, Ryan K, Wahlstrom SK, et al. Oncologist and Patient Preferences for Novel Agents in First-Line Treatment for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: Commonalities and Disconnects. Patient Prefer Adherence. 2021;15:99-110. doi:10.2147/PPA.S289139

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