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Tailored risk information helps patients with cancer

Published: 04th July 2022 Last updated: 05th July 2022

Patients with cancer have a great need for tailored information based on figures and statistics on, for example, survival, treatment outcomes and risks of side effects. They find these more useful than general data based on statistics. This is not happening now. Doctors and also decision aids on websites should explain this tailored information in the right form. This is the outcome of Ruben Vromans' doctoral thesis, for which he will receive his doctorate on 8 July.

Doctors are trained to communicate as well as possible in the shared decision-making about treatment of patients with cancer. Yet the information offered consists mainly of generic statistics that do not take into account unique characteristics of individual patients (age, gender, or tumor characteristics). Most patients do want to receive personalized risk information and prognosis.

Personalized risks are generally seen as more relevant than generic risks, and information about them can therefore play a key role in a patient's treatment choice. Special attention is then needed for patients who have more difficulty interpreting probabilities and numbers.

Joint decision-making

Vromans also emphasizes the need to go beyond providing detailed, specific and individualized risk statistics. Communicators, such as physicians, nurses, and developers for website-based decision aids, must select appropriate formats. Those formats must match the needs, preferences, and information-processing styles of individual patients.

For example, it is important that personalized risks are never communicated through words alone (for example: 'This side effect is common in men like you'), but always in combination with numeric ('in 10 out of 100 men like you') or visual information (with icons, for example). 
In addition, it is important that the personalized risks are well explained, by discussing the risk factors. In this way, shared decision-making about cancer treatment can be promoted.

Note for the press
Ruben Vromans will receive his PhD on July 8 at 1:30 pm in the auditorium of Tilburg University, with  livestream. His dissertation is titled: 'Communicating personalized risks to patients with cancer: A multi-method approach.' For more information please contact
 The research was done in cooperation with the NKR, the organisation with registration for patients with cancer.