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Communication with Patients Is Key in Treating Cancer

Posted on June 14, 2012, 2:45 PM

Mukerjhee and Foti at conference 12 June 2012 cropped.jpgBy Richard Lobb

(Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, left, was introduced at a conference in Washington by Dr. Margaret Foti, CEO of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). Photo by R. Lobb.)

At a recent Washington conference focused on public policy changes required to sustain the rapid progress being made in cancer research and treatment, one speaker touched on a timeless concern: the need for open and honest dialogue between physicians and the people they treat.

“Doctors need to communicate more clearly with their patients,” cancer specialist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D., said after a talk at the “Turning the Tide Against Cancer Through Sustained Medical Innovation” conference. Sponsored by Stand Up To Cancer’s scientific partner the American Association for Cancer Research, the Personalized Medicine Coalition, and Feinstein Kean Healthcare, the meeting brought together clinicians, researchers, patient advocates,  policymakers and representatives of industry. 

“Physicians need to be honest and thoughtful, especially about what is achievable with the cancer therapies available,” he said.  “It is better to do that than to put on a show of bravado and then fail.”

Last year, Dr. Mukherjee was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction for “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.”  SU2C has acquired the TV and film rights to the book, which is both an account of the diagnosis and treatment of cancer through the ages and a personal journal of one young physician’s coming-of-age as an oncologist.  The stories of Dr. Mukherjee’s patients illustrate the struggle in recent years to understand the basic nature of cancer and to develop effective therapies.

In addressing the conference, Dr. Mujherjee noted that “Personalized Medicine” is the future of cancer therapy because of the tremendous variations in the same types of cancer in different patients.  Cancer is rooted in genetic mutations and the same type of cancer can exhibit many different combinations of mutations in different patients - and sometimes in different tumors in the same patient.

“The central problem in cancer treatment today is, how do we deal with combinational diversity and how do we respond with combinational personalized medicine,” he said.

Dr. Mukherjee was introduced by Dr. Margaret Foti, CEO of the American Association for Cancer Research, who also spoke about the emphasis on personalized treatment.

“Progress against cancer has reached a critical inflection point; where our ever-increasing understanding of the molecular basis of disease, combined with our relentless effort to apply these insights into clinical care, is forming the foundation of personalized cancer care,” she said.  “However, policy changes are going to be required to accelerate this progress and improve patient care in an era of health care cost containment.”

In dealing with the bewildering complexity of modern medicine, Dr. Mukherjee said, doctors should be honest and straightforward with their patients. Unless patients are given the facts, they sometimes turn to the “myths” about cancer and fall prey to conspiracy theories about cures that are supposedly being suppressed.

“We owe our patients the truth in plain language,” he said.  “If we can’t give them plain language, who can?”

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Posted by Rob Curtis | July 12, 2012 4:36 PM

As a parent of a young daughter currently fighting cancer I quite agree. A doctor’s comments can inform and prevent the patient and parents and impacted families wasting much precious time on researching a subject that is often well outside the comfort zone of their knowledge. Medicine connected with cancer is a specialist and complex topic that needs an expert interpretation by a doctor to be of use.

Posted by Chandraprakash | August 05, 2012 7:55 PM

That explains it then!If it heappned to men it would have been sorted out long ago, instead women suffering with breast cancer have to also put up with permanent hairloss while the men get away with it.Somethings never change do they.

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