Navigating prognostic communication when children with poor-prognosis cancer experience prolonged disease stability.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

BACKGROUND: Most pediatric patients and families want clear prognostic information across the illness course. Yet when children with poor-prognosis cancer experience prolonged disease stability, uncertainty can make communication particularly challenging. In this study, we aimed to (i) assess how frequently oncologists communicate about prognosis when high-risk cancer does not progress, and (ii) describe prognostic communication patterns in the context of disease stability. PATIENTS AND METHODS: In this prospective, longitudinal, mixed-methods study, we audio-recorded serial disease re-evaluation conversations between children with poor-prognosis cancer, their families, and their primary oncologists. For this secondary analysis, we conducted content analysis across serial conversations among 16 patient-parent-oncologist triads for whom the patient's disease remained stable over the 24-month study period. RESULTS: Prognostic communication was absent in >50% of recorded conversations. Overall, it comprised only 4% of dialog time, nearly 90% of which was dialog about prognostic uncertainty; discussion of curability occurred infrequently. Three distinct patterns for prognostic communication emerged: (a) "Don't know" statements, avoiding or deferring prognostication; (b) "Worry" statements, preparing families for possible future disease progression; and (c) relief-caveat statements, celebrating disease stability while balancing positivity with caution. CONCLUSIONS: Oncologists seldom talked about prognosis with high-risk patients during periods of disease stability; yet when they did, they used thoughtful and effective strategies to prepare families for possible future disease progression. Further research is needed to better understand if, how, and when patients and families with stable disease who are high risk for future disease progression prefer to receive information about prognosis.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Porter, AS; Chow, E; Woods, C; Lemmon, ME; Baker, JN; Mack, JW; Kaye, EC

Published Date

  • January 2023

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 70 / 1

Start / End Page

  • e29920 -

PubMed ID

  • 36000929

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1545-5017

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1002/pbc.29920


  • eng

Conference Location

  • United States