Who decides about prostate cancer treatment? A qualitative study

Fam Pract. 2003 Dec;20(6):724-9. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmg617.


Background: Shared decision-making between patients and health professionals has been promoted as ethically and clinically desirable. Patients vary in their willingness to participate in decision-making, while clinicians identify practical barriers to greater participation, such as time and communication skills. A paternalistic approach to treatment decisions remains common even in an area of clinical uncertainty. The willingness of patients to participate in decision-making varies over time during the course of an illness but patients may not be given the opportunity to revisit clinical decisions with their specialists after the initial consultation.

Objectives: To gain an in depth understanding of the perspectives of men recently diagnosed with localized prostate cancer, and to explore the value of decision-making models in the setting of NHS practice.

Methods: The study design was a qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews. Nineteen men recently diagnosed with localized prostate cancer were included from patients attending a British District General Hospital.

Results: The interviews suggested that the respondents' treatment plans were mostly decided on their behalf by their clinicians. Whilst initially accepting this paternalistic approach, the interviewees over time wished to revisit the decisions. Patients' barriers to shared decision-making included fear of appearing disrespectful to their doctors and of taking responsibility for the outcome of treatment. The structure of patient follow-up did not afford the men an opportunity to discussion treatment decisions further.

Conclusions: The paternalistic decision-making model remains the chosen approach in this situation. The patients' willingness to become actively involved in choosing their care varies over time. Barriers to shared decision-making can be identified both in the nature of the doctor-patient relationship and the structure of the clinical follow-up.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Decision Making*
  • Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Orchiectomy
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Prostatectomy
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / radiotherapy


  • Hormones