Tuesday, June 28, 2005

We need to do a better job in cancer education

It looks like those of us in the health care arena need to do a better job of educating the public about cancer care. A new study published in Cancer demonstrates that certain myths about cancer are widely believed in the US adult population; the shorter press release is here. The five misconception statements include:

  1. Pain medications are not effective in reducing the amount of pain people have from cancer
  2. All you need to beat cancer is a positive attitude, not treatment.
  3. Treating cancer with surgery can cause it to spread throughout the body.
  4. There is currently a cure for cancer but the medical industry won't tell the public about it because they make too much money treating cancer patients.
  5. Cancer is something that cannot be effectively treated.
As a surgeon, it is surprising to me how often patients cling to belief #2 --- in fact, that was the most commonly held misconception, believed by a whopping 41% of the survey population. That seems a bit high compared to my own experience, but does reflect a clear lack of understanding of cancer and cancer care in the general population.

Hopefully, this type of information will encourage physicians to educate our patients appropriately, even when patients may not express their misconceptions openly. Our educational system also needs encouragement to educate students regarding this type of mistaken belief --- something that requires a good science foundation, IMHO.