Towards a novel approach guiding the decision-making process for anticancer treatment in patients with advanced cancer: framework for systemic anticancer treatment with palliative intent

ESMO Open. 2022 Jun;7(3):100496. doi: 10.1016/j.esmoop.2022.100496. Epub 2022 May 18.


Background: Weighing risks and benefits is currently the primary criterion for decisions regarding systemic anticancer treatment (SACT) in far advanced cancer patients, also in the modern immunotherapy- and molecular-targeted driven oncology. Decision aids rarely include substantially key concepts of early integrated palliative care (PC) and communication science. We compiled decisional factors (DFs) important for guiding the use of SACT with palliative intent (SACT-PI) and explored these DFs regarding their applicability in routine clinical care.

Patients and methods: Clinician (participants: n = 28) and patient (n = 15) focus groups were conducted in an integrated oncology and PC setting. Thematic analysis was used to identify DFs. A Delphi survey of clinicians ranked the importance of DFs in routine decision-making. DFs were aligned with elements of the typical decision-making process, resulting in an eight-step guide for making SACT-PI decisions in clinical practice.

Results: Eight focus groups revealed 55 DFs relating to established topics like providing information and risk-benefit analysis, as well as to PC topics like patients' attitudes, beliefs, and hopes; patient-physician interaction; and physician attitudes. Agreement on the relative importance was reached for 34 (62%) of 55 DFs, assigned to five elements: patient/family, clinicians/system, patient-clinician-interaction, information/patient education, risk-benefit weighting/actual decision. These themes are embedded in a potential clinically useful SACT-PI Decision Framework, which includes eight steps: assess, educate, verify, reflect, discuss, weigh, pause, and decide.

Conclusions: The SACT-PI Decision Framework integrates subjective patient factors, interpersonal factors, and PC issues into decision-making. Our findings complement existing decision aids and prompt lists by framing DFs in the context of SACT-PI and enforce the decision 'process', not the decision act. Further research is needed to explore the relative importance of DFs in specific patient situations and test structured decision-making processes, such as our SACT-PI Decision Framework, against standard care.

Keywords: communication; decision-making; interprofessional; palliative oncology; physician attitudes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Decision Making*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Palliative Care