Simplified Summaries of Trial Data Needed for Patients and Their Oncologists

Maurie Markman, MD
Published: Friday, Apr 07, 2017
Maurie Markman, MD

Maurie Markman, MD

Data from clinical trials play a key role in decisions physicians routinely make in designing treatment plans for individual patients. This is certainly important in oncology, where such data help define the potential benefits versus the possible risks of therapeutic strategies. The relevance of the data is heightened by the fact that the benefits being discussed include the impact of a strategy on the duration of the individual’s survival, the time to progression of the disease process, and the impact on quality of life. Risks include short-term adverse events, such as emesis and hair loss; longer-term effects, such as neuropathy; and the potential for fatal events, such as neutropenic sepsis and therapy-associated heart failure.

As a result, there is a serious and ever-increasing risk for information overload in discussions between patients and their oncologists, particularly in light of the anxiety-provoking nature of the topics being reviewed. Therefore, open, honest, but also thoughtful and respectful discussion is required. Simplifying the data, without distorting or sugarcoating the message, has the realistic potential to aid in this complex and often difficult conversation.

Using Plain Language

Consider, for a moment, a recent report from the medical literature about the evidence-based benefits of aspirin in preventing the subsequent development of cardiovascular disease (CVD) or colorectal cancer (CRC).1 Multiple studies conducted over many years have examined this highly clinically relevant issue. It would be easy to see how a conversation with a patient regarding the risks versus benefits of aspirin could be overwhelming. However, in this analysis, the authors summarized the complex literature and made a relatively simple recommendation to physicians to consider for use in their patients. They concluded:
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