Experiences and needs of patients with incurable cancer regarding advance care planning: results from a national cross-sectional survey

Support Care Cancer. 2020 Sep;28(9):4211-4217. doi: 10.1007/s00520-019-05285-z. Epub 2020 Jan 3.


Introduction: Patients faced with incurable cancer may experience a lack of support from their physician throughout and after treatment. Studies on the needs and experiences of these patients are scarce. In this study, we explored the needs and experiences of patients diagnosed with incurable cancer regarding the conversation, in which they were told that their cancer was incurable, the care received after this conversation, and their preferences regarding end-of-life conversations.

Methods: Data were cross-sectionally collected through a national online survey in the Netherlands (September 2018). Descriptive statistics and correlation coefficients were reported and subgroups were compared.

Results: Six hundred fifty-four patients (mean age 60 years; 58% women) completed the survey. Patients were primarily diagnosed with breast cancer (22%) or a hematological malignancy (21%). Patients reported a strong need for emotional support during the conversation, in which they were told their cancer was incurable (mean score 8.3; scale 1-10). Their experienced satisfaction with received emotional support was mediocre (mean score 6.4; scale 1-10). Of those patients who felt like they did not receive any additional care (37%) after the diagnosis, the majority expressed a clear need for this kind of care (59%). Mostly, support pertained to psychosocial issues. Regarding conversations about the end of life, most patients (62%) expressed a need to discuss this topic, and preferred their healthcare provider to initiate this conversation.

Conclusion: Care for patients with incurable cancer can be further improved by tailoring conversations to specific needs and timely providing appropriate supportive care services.

Keywords: Advance care planning; Cancer; Cross-sectional; End-of-life care; Palliative care; Shared decision making.

MeSH terms

  • Advance Care Planning*
  • Communication
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Health Personnel / psychology
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Netherlands
  • Physicians / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires