Purpose: We sought the attitudes of people with a cancer experience to using best case, worst case, and typical scenarios for survival to explain life expectancy.
Methods: Oncology clinic attendees and Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) members completed a survey describing two formats for explaining life expectancy to a hypothetical patient with advanced cancer-providing either three scenarios for survival or just the median survival time.
Results: Characteristics of the 505 respondents from outpatient clinics (n = 251) and BCNA (n = 254) were median age of 58 years, female 74 %, and breast primary 64 %. More respondents agreed that explaining three scenarios (vs. median survival) would make sense (93 vs. 75 %), be helpful (93 vs. 69 %), convey hope (68 vs. 44 %), and reassure (60 vs. 40 %), while fewer respondents agreed that explaining three scenarios (vs. median survival) would upset people (24 vs. 36 %); all p values < 0.001. Most respondents agreed that each scenario should be presented: best case 89 %, worst case 82 %, and typical 92 %. For information about their own prognosis, 88 % preferred all three scenarios and 5 % a single estimate of the median. Respondents with higher education were more likely to agree that presenting three scenarios would be helpful (95 vs. 90 %, p = 0.05). Respondents with breast cancer were more likely to agree that explaining three scenarios would upset people (31 vs. 13 %, p < 0.001).
Conclusions: Most respondents judged presentation of best case, worst case, and typical scenarios preferable and more helpful and reassuring than presentation of just the median survival time when explaining life expectancy to patients with advanced cancer.