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Life expectancy discussions in a multisite sample of Australian medical oncology outpatients

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Why provide life expectancy information? An integral part of patient-centred cancer care is ensuring that information, communication and education provided to patients meets their needs, preferences and values.1 Between 50% and 70% of patients with cancer want numerical estimates of their life expectancy.26 Assessing and responding to patient preferences about life expectancy information is therefore a necessary component of patient-centred care, and can assist patients in making informed and effective decisions about their care. Misperceptions of life expectancy by patients, however, can also influence aspects of care, such as decisions about continuing life-prolonging treatments that may diminish their quality of life.7,8

Discussing life expectancy is a complex task. Clinicians must 1) establish how much, and in what detail patients want to know; 2) offer timely information that facilitates decision making about treatment and informed consent; 3) provide information consistent with patient preferences; 4) communicate the limitations inherent to prognoses; 5) present information in formats that aid understanding; and 6) ensure that information is communicated sensitively.6,