A cancer diagnosis is a long process that involves a detailed medical history, tests and physical exams.
It involves not just finding a tumor, but also finding other factors that could make the diagnosis more accurate.
But the time it takes to gather and conduct that information and to evaluate the results is often too long to prepare for an actual diagnosis, according to a study.
Now, a new study by Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests that a patient’s ability to understand what he or she needs to know about a cancer diagnosis can dramatically improve with more detailed information and a clearer understanding of the symptoms and possible treatments available to them.
In fact, a patient who understood that the diagnosis was not made in the way that the surgeon or radiologist originally intended might be able to make an even more informed decision about the treatment options available to him or her, the researchers say.
The study, published online Feb. 6 in the journal Cancer Research, also found that patients who understood the diagnosis better also tended to have better overall health and lower levels of illness-related morbidity and mortality.
In the study, researchers recruited 1,065 patients with stage IV or V breast cancer, who were undergoing treatment.
In each case, the patients were shown a list of diagnostic tests and were asked to complete a questionnaire that included questions on their history of cancer, symptoms and symptoms-specific treatments.
Each patient was also asked to indicate whether they had ever been diagnosed with a specific cancer, and whether they wanted to be diagnosed with that cancer.
The researchers found that those who had been diagnosed correctly, but not with a cancer they actually had, were significantly less likely to have any disease-related symptoms than were those who were not correctly diagnosed.
“Our study suggests that there are certain types of patients who can benefit from having more information about their cancer diagnosis,” said lead study author Jennifer Pfeifer, an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins.
“For example, patients who understand that a cancer has a specific diagnosis are likely to get better and healthier outcomes, and patients who are more focused on the symptoms of their cancer and are willing to make more informed decisions about the options available may be more likely to find and treat their disease effectively.”
The researchers looked at more than 5,000 patients who underwent surgery and found that only 16 percent of the patients who were correctly diagnosed with stage III breast cancer had ever had any symptoms, and only 20 percent of those who did had any cancer-specific symptoms.
The remaining 93 percent had some symptoms, but did not have cancer-related disease.
Those patients were much more likely than the others to be in the minority of people with any symptoms.
“It seems to me that having a better understanding of your cancer diagnosis could make a huge difference,” Pfeif said.
“When you get the diagnosis, you can make more thoughtful decisions about what treatment options are available to you and what is the right treatment for you.
It may be possible to prevent or reverse some of the disease-specific disease-promoting behaviors, for example, by identifying and addressing the disease, and then finding the treatments that work best for you.”
The study is part of a larger research effort by Johns and Stanford that is looking at how to improve the quality of the cancer diagnosis process, particularly in the case of advanced cancers that affect the brain and spinal cord, the study authors say.
Previous research has found that people who have better information about the disease can be more successful in treating the disease and in managing symptoms, Pfefer said.
She also noted that the study could also lead to better treatment options for people who already have the disease or have it progressing or who may be at risk of developing it.
The research team included researchers from the University of Michigan School of Medicine; Johns Hopkins; and the Johns Hopkins Cancer Center.
The National Cancer Institute funded the study.