Awareness about cancer can double survival rates

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Cancer treatment nearly doubles in success when patients have information about their disease, according to a new study published today by Dr. Caroline Kamau of Birkbeck, University of London in the UK.

Dr. Kamau set out to investigate how clinicians could help patients to be prepared for “the tough realities of balancing a job with cancertreatment” by sharing the right information with them.

The report, published in BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care, reveals that working patients who receive information about their disease, its treatment and its impact on working life and education are almost twice as likely to experience a positive outcome as those who do not.

It seems that information helps to decrease stress – a known aggravator for ill health. It also equips patients with strategies to help them cope during their illness.

Dr. Kamau analyzed nearly 3,500 patients, whose data was drawn from the National Cancer Patient Experience Survey – carried out by the UK’s Department of Health in 2013-14.

She studied the relationship between how often patients received information that increased their understanding of their condition, with the likely impact on their work life and education.

A positive outcome for the well-informed

Defining a “positive outcome” as “completing treatment with no further signs or symptoms,” the results showed that the likelihood of a positive outcome was:

  • 72 times greater in patients who received information about the impact of cancer on their work life or education
  • 99 times greater in patients who received information about their type of cancer
  • 90 times greater in patients who received information before a cancer-related operation.

Conversely, those who received information about side effects were up to 35% less likely to have a positive outcome, probably since such information increases stress and uncertainty.

Fast facts about cancer survivors

  • In 1973-74 there were 3.3 million cancer survivors in the US
  • This number increased to 14.5 million in 2014-15
  • In 2024 there are expected to be 19 million cancer survivors in the US.

Dr. Kamau corroborated her initial findings with a secondary analysis of survey data from a wider sample of 6,700 patients (some working, some not), and again found that the more information patients had, the better they fared.

The kind of information that proved helpful included awareness of fatigue, which would enable patients to adjust their workload.

As an organizational psychologist, Dr. Kamau focused on working patients in an effort to establish how employees can be helped to function in the workplace, especially as many cancer patients have no option but to continue working.

Nevertheless, she told Medical News Today that she believes the same strategies “should replicate for non-working patients.”

Dr. Kamau focuses specifically on the need for cancer patients to be supported by the workplace during their treatment, bearing in mind the special challenges they face. However, when asked how she might expect working cancer patients to feel compared with those who were not working, Dr. Kamau told MNT:

“Employment […] comes with key psychological benefits. Working during cancer is […] ‘light at the end of the tunnel.’ You maintain your prediagnosis professional identity and you continue to access the social support that comes with being at work. Work boosts wellbeing in ways that can help sustain patients with cancer through difficult times.”

Dr. Kamau told us that while many good practices already exist in the workplace for cancer patients, there is room to incorporate these into treatment of working patients with other potentially life-limiting illnesses.

MNT recently reported on a biomarker that may predict stomach cancer survival.

Written by Yvette Brazier

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