Adam Brufsky, MD, PhD, FACP, is Professor of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and also serves as the Associate Division Chief for the Division of Hematology/Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine's Department of Medicine

Oncologist Data from a New Survey Addresses the Emotional Impact of Treating Advanced Breast Cancer

Published: Wednesday, Sep 10, 2014

When talking about breast cancer, especially advanced or metastatic breast cancer, we often only talk about the impact on patients who have the disease. Yet data from a brand new survey called Make Your Dialogue Count, presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 2014 Breast Cancer Symposium, address some of the emotional issues also faced by physicians when treating and delivering a diagnosis of advanced breast cancer, specifically meaning Stage IV or metastatic for this survey.

As a practicing medical oncologist and breast cancer specialist, it came as no surprise to me that 89% of surveyed oncologists said the treatment of women with advanced breast cancer has a negative emotional toll on them personally. While 81% believe it is unprofessional to let emotions affect treatment recommendations, 23% reported their emotions have kept them from providing some information to their patients. In fact, 27% of oncologists said, in certain situations, they do not discuss with patients the fact that advanced breast cancer is incurable. While this isn’t entirely surprising, it is an important finding that needs to be addressed.

The survey also found that physicians think it’s important to address both the medical and emotional issues a patient may face when receiving an advanced breast cancer diagnosis. Of the surveyed oncologists, 81% felt it is very important to show care and compassion at initial diagnosis. In addition, while 56% of oncologists felt that their patients were confident about the availability of treatment options at initial diagnosis, only 23% felt this way at the time of treatment change.

The Make Your Dialogue Count survey includes 252 oncologists, 359 patients with advanced breast cancer and 234 non-professional caregivers. These data presented at the 2014 Breast Cancer Symposium focused only on the physician portion. The full data, including insights from patients and caregivers, will be presented at an upcoming meeting later this year.

Novartis commissioned this US-focused study in 2014 following key learnings from the global 'Count Us, Know Us, Join Us' survey conducted from 2012 to 2013. These data collected from 1,273 patients from 12 countries, found over half (53%) of US women with advanced breast cancer wanted more time to discuss their needs during clinic visits and 60% believed their treatment options are limited. Make Your Dialogue Count was designed to delve deeper into the dynamics between physicians, patients and caregivers, with the goal of helping facilitate more open communications around the diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

People with advanced breast cancer face unique challenges compared to those dealing with earlier stages of the disease, and it is vital we address these issues and encourage open conversations with our patients and their caregivers. We also need to try and be cognizant of any emotional effects felt personally when helping patients face end-of-life choices for a disease that currently has no cure.

For more information on the barriers faced by those with advanced breast cancer, especially for your patients and their caregivers, go to advancedbreastcancercommunity.org.


Brufsky A, et. al. Understanding Potential Communication Gaps Between Oncologists and Patients With Advanced Breast Cancer: A Survey of Oncologists. Presented at: 2014 Breast Cancer Symposium; September 4 - 6, 2014; San Francisco, CA. Abstract 124.


View Conference Coverage
Online CME Activities
TitleExpiration DateCME Credits
Community Practice Connections™: 16th Annual International Congress on the Future of Breast Cancer®Sep 29, 20182.0
School of Breast Oncology®: Mid-Year Video Update OnlineSep 30, 20182.0
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