The challenges of making informed decisions about treatment and trial participation following a cancer diagnosis: a qualitative study involving adolescents and young adults with cancer and their caregivers

The challenges of making informed decisions about treatment and trial participation following a cancer diagnosis: a qualitative study involving adolescents and young adults with cancer and their caregivers
Research Article
Ruth I. Hart, David A. Cameron, Fiona J. Cowie, Jeni Harden, Nicholas B. Heaney, David Rankin, Angela B. Jesudason, Julia Lawton
BMC Health Services Research, 8 January 2020; 20(25)
Open Access
Abstract
Background
Limited attention has been paid to adolescents and young adults’ (AYA’s) experiences in the aftermath of a cancer diagnosis, despite this being a time when potentially life-changing decisions are made. We explored AYA’s and caregivers’ experiences of, and views about, making treatment and trial participation decisions following a cancer diagnosis, in order to understand, and help facilitate, informed treatment decision-making in this age group.
Methods
Interviews were undertaken with 18 AYA diagnosed, or re-diagnosed, with cancer when aged 16–24 years, and 15 parents/caregivers. Analysis focused on the identification and description of explanatory themes.
Results
Most AYA described being extremely unwell by the time of diagnosis and, consequently, experiencing difficulties processing the news. Distress and acceleration in clinical activity following diagnosis could further impede the absorption of treatment-relevant information. After referral to a specialist cancer unit, many AYA described quickly transitioning to a calm and pragmatic mind-set, and wanting to commence treatment at the earliest opportunity. Most reported seeing information about short-term side-effects of treatment as having limited relevance to their recovery-focused outlook at that time. AYA seldom indicated wanting to make choices about front-line treatment, with most preferring to defer decisions to health professionals. Even when charged with decisions about trial participation, AYA reported welcoming a strong health professional steer. Parents/caregivers attempted to compensate for AYA’s limited engagement with treatment-relevant information. However, in seeking to ensure AYA received the best treatment, these individuals had conflicting priorities and information needs.
Conclusion
Our study highlights the challenging context in which AYA are confronted with decisions about front-line treatment, and reveals how their responses make it hard to ensure their decisions are fully informed. It raises questions about the direct value, to AYA, of approaches that aim to promote decision-making by improving understanding and recall of information, though such approaches may be of value to caregivers. In seeking to improve information-giving and involvement in treatment-related decision-making at diagnosis, care should be taken not to delegitimize the preference of many AYA for a directive approach from trusted clinicians.

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