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Five Shared Decision Making Tips for Supporting Patients with Breast Cancer

It is estimated 246,660 American women will have received a new diagnosis of breast cancer this year. Early detection and treatment has proven to increase survival rate. In fact, women who are diagnosed and treated early (when the cancer is localized) have an average five-year relative survival rate of 99%. Meaning they are 99% likely as women in the general population to survive five years beyond their diagnosis date. While these statistics are helpful in evaluating the big picture for breast cancer research and policy, it can be less helpful for patients whose outcomes depend on their particular diagnosis and course of treatment.

Breast cancer treatment is highly individualized based on genetic characteristics of the cancer itself and the patient’s individual health needs and preferences. Unfortunately, many women don’t fully understand the role they play in the decisions of treatment. As a healthcare provider, helping your patients navigate the prospects of surgery and other therapies can be daunting. Here are five tips that can help you support your patients and their families conquer treatment decisions.

  1. Encourage your patients to take their time making this decision. A diagnosis of cancer often results in a knee jerk reaction “take it out, take it out Now!” But many breast cancers are slow growing. Unless histology indicates a fast growing cancer, taking a few weeks to make an informed treatment decision will improve satisfaction in the long run.
  2. Help your patients to understand their values and supports. This will help them to narrow down their treatment preferences. Lumpectomy versus mastectomy; reconstruction at the time of initial surgery, later down the road, or never. These are types of decisions that are preference sensitive. There is no right or wrong answer medically- it all comes down to what is best for your patients according to their own feelings once they are fully informed of the options.
  3. For those women who choose a mastectomy talk to them about reconstruction options. Many times the decision for reconstruction is treated as an afterthought. However, there are numerous options for types of reconstructive surgery and many can be done at the time of the initial mastectomy.
  4. Provide unbiased information on treatment choices. General information on the pros and cons of treatment can help women understand the role they can play in their own treatment and recovery. Patient decision aids, such as those produced by Health Dialog can offer an evidence based bridge for women to decide with their oncologists what is right for them.
  5. Provide time and the opportunity to talk it through. Aligning with a support system that can offer shared decision making coaching can help to move your patients in a direction of empowerment and satisfaction through informed decisions. Health coaches trained in shared decision making principals can serve as an extension of your provider practice by providing patients with education about their diagnoses and treatment options, as well as support and encouragement to be more actively involved with their course of care through effective communication with their doctor.

While there are many courses of treatment effective for breast cancer, the most appropriate option is the one that leads to outcomes that matter most to the patient; both in terms of their clinical needs, and values and preferences. Learn more about shared decision making and the benefits of this collaborative process, read some of our related posts below.

Related Posts:

Power to the People: How Shared Decision Making Empowers Patients AND Enhances Doctor/Patient Relationships

How shared decision making helps providers better have more productive discussions with patients, better engage individuals in their care plan, and improve stratification with individual courses of treatment.

Is Shared Decision Making the Core of Value-Based Care?

How shared decision making tools and principles are key in facilitating the healthcare industry shift toward patient-centered care and a fee-for-value model.

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