PHOENIX – Hope remains for patients with advanced cancers, even after curative-intent surgery fails them, investigators reported at the annual Society of Surgical Oncology Cancer Symposium.
A study of the effects of an online decision aid for advance care planning showed that patients whose cancers had advanced despite initial curative-intent surgery had degrees of hope and desires for the aggressiveness of additional therapy similar to those of patients who had undergone palliative therapy only, said Dr. Niraj J. Gusani, FACS, of Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pa.
"As we do more advance care planning, stratify patients, and get them into these programs to help them figure out what their wishes really are, we should treat everybody the same , and they should all have a durable advance care planning process, maybe using a decision aid such as this," he said.
The results show that outcomes beyond whether a patient lives or dies also matter, commented Dr. Steven Chen, FACS, from City of Hope Medical Center, Duarte, Calif.
"The thing that patients care about at least as much as how long they’re going to live is how well they’re going to live until they die," he said in an interview. Dr. Chen was not involved in the study, but comoderated the poster discussion session where it was presented.
"Almost all of my patients have very advanced cancers with poor prognosis, and it’s all about their quality of life and how they’re going to feel," Dr. Gusani agreed. "They intuitively get that they have a poor prognosis, but if we can get them through with a better experience with their time and they are able to maintain their hope, then it makes a world of difference for the patient and the family as well."
Multimedia advance care planning
Dr. Gusani and his colleagues looked at data from a clinical trial evaluating the effects of an online multimedia decision aid tool for patients with advanced-stage disease. The program, called Making Your Wishes Known: Planning Your Medical Future, was developed by two of the authors.
The program "provides tailored education, values-clarification exercises, and a decision-making tool that translates an individual’s values and preferences into a specific medical plan than can be implemented by a health care team," they wrote.
The investigators hypothesized that patients who went into surgery hoping for or expecting a cure might opt for more aggressive treatment at the end of life and have more hope and/or less hopelessness than patients who underwent treatments that they knew would not be curative.
The researchers administered the advance care planning program to 159 patients from the parent clinical trial, in which 200 patients with stage IV cancers who were judged to have less than 12 months to live were randomly assigned to receive either standard advance care planning or the decision aid. All of the patients had non–central nervous system and nonhematologic malignancies and were classified as having had initial curative-intent surgery or treatment without curative intent (e.g., palliative therapy and tumor debulking).
Making patients’ wishes known
Both at baseline and after the intervention, the patients were rated for hope on the 12-item Herth Hope Index, with scores from 12 (low hope) to 48 (high hope), and for hopelessness on the 7-item Beck Hopelessness Scale, in which 0 is no hopelessness and 7 is the highest level of despair.
The patients were also asked to rate their desires for aggressiveness of additional therapy by choosing one of six general wishes statements. For this scale, questions 1-4 were deemed to be more aggressive, and 5-6 less aggressive.
Additionally, patients who used the decision aid were rated on a treatment aggressiveness scale scored from 0 (least aggressive) to 40 (most) based on their responses to questions within the decision aid that asked about their wishes for eight different treatments (such as mechanical ventilation or cardiopulmonary resuscitation) under five clinical scenarios (such as stroke or dementia).
In all, 46 of 95 patients (48%) who had originally had curative-intent surgery received the control intervention, and 49 (52%) received the decision aid. Of the 64 patients who had non–curative-intent therapy, 35 (52%) received standard advance care planning and 31 (48%) received the Making Your Wishes Known aid.
After either intervention, patients who had curative-intent surgery had a slight but not significant increase in hope, and patients in the non–curative-intent group had a slight but not significant decrease. There was no significant between-group difference.
Similarly, each group had a slight decrease in hopelessness scores, with no significant differences between the groups.