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Fox Chase Cancer Center Medical Oncologist Receives NIH Grant to Study Treatment Decision Making and Doctor-Patient Communication

PHILADELPHIA (October 15, 2003) — Treatment decision-making is often challenging for patients diagnosed with cancer. These patients face an especially tough task, as the treatments may have significant side effects and their options may be limited. With funding from the National Institutes of Health, medical oncologist, Neal J. Meropol, MD, of Fox Chase Cancer Center, is currently studying new ways in which cancer patients can make the most informed and comfortable decisions.

"Our hope for the study is to develop a communication aid for patients to better facilitate treatment decision-making," said Meropol. "First we're going to assess what's most important to each individual patient, for example, 'How important to you is quality of life as you undergo treatment?' and 'How much detail do you want from your doctor?' We're also going to teach patients how best to communicate these values to their doctors. We want to give patients the tools they need to make treatment decisions that work for them."

In this multi-center study funded by the NIH, Meropol and his colleagues will develop and test an interactive internet-based tool that assesses patient values and information needs, provides education about cancer treatment and offers communication skills training. Before the patient arrives for a consultation, a computer-generated report will be given to the physician. The report will provide a summary of the patient's values, wishes regarding the roles of patient and doctor in decision-making, and desires concerning the detail and nature of how potential risk and benefit information about treatment is presented to them.

Meropol has identified in his previous studies that important goals of medical decision making are often not met for cancer patients considering treatment options, including satisfactory discussion of issues consistent with individual patient values, and effective communication of physician expectations of potential risks and benefits of therapy.

"The aim of this research is to measure whether this type of computer-based intervention improves doctor-patient communication and patient satisfaction, such that it can one day become part of routine patient care. The comfort level with computers is now so high that we should be able to utilize this technology in daily clinical practice," concluded Meropol.


Fox Chase Cancer Center, part of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence four consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach.  For more information, call 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).

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