Do People Prefer Taking Chances with Their Cancer Treatments?

Oncologists and medical doctors work closely with cancer patients to design a plan of treatment that will give them the highest chance of survival. Individuals who are diagnosed with particularly aggressive cancers that are terminal are often presented with multiple treatment options. Doctors work with patients and family members to decide which treatment will be most beneficial physically, emotionally, and even financially. Unfortunately, insurance coverage often dictates which treatment plan will be chosen, regardless of whether it extends life expectancy the most or not. Patients and doctors have become frustrated with the limited choices afforded to them by insurance companies in recent years. Public outcry has created the need for additional research that measures a patient’s value on medical treatment options.

In response to this need, Darius N. Lakdawalla, director of research at the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles recently conducted a study that examined how much risk individuals would be willing to take with their treatment if they had the chance of living longer. Lakdawalla asked individuals diagnosed with either advanced breast cancer or melanoma whether they would prefer to have a guarantee of surviving for a specific period of time or would they rather take their chances with a treatment plan that gave no guarantee at all, but offered the hope of longer survival. He also assessed how much the participants would be willing to gamble for their treatment.

The study revealed that the majority of the patients, 77%, chose to take a gamble in the hopes that they would live longer than the amount of time the “sure-bet” treatment guaranteed they would live. For melanoma patients, the margin was 20% higher odds of outliving sure-bet statistics if they took the chance, for breast cancer patients it was 10%. Additionally, all of the patients were willing to pay an average of $36,000 for the possibility of living longer than guaranteed treatments allowed for. These findings suggest that people facing end of life decisions are motivated by hope. Even slim chances of longevity led to risk taking for the cancer patients surveyed here. Lakdawalla believes these results could help determine the shape of future cancer treatments. He added, “If patients care about long-term survival prospects, not just average survival, this suggests the need to incorporate long-term benefits as a unique consideration in health technology assessment for oncology treatment.”

Lakdawalla, D. N., Romley, J. A., Sanchez, Y., Ross Maclean, J., Penrod, J. R., Philipson, T. (2012). How cancer patients value hope and the implications for cost-effectiveness assessments of high-cost cancer therapies. Health Affairs, 31.4, 676-682.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Zane


    May 10th, 2012 at 3:11 PM

    Well I would 1st of all like to say that it infuriates me that cancer patients and any patient really has to have dictated to them by the insurance companies which course of treatment they have to be willing to accept. For the insurance companies it is never about the quality or longevity of life for the patient but rather more about what is going to save them the most amount of money.
    2ndly I would like to add that if I were a cancer patient I think that I would have to choose the treatment that allowed me to feel the best for the mongest amount of time. I don’t necessarily want to live with a great deal of pain even if it is for a longer amount of time. I would like to be able to live it to the fullest and really enjoy the time I have left.

  • bernie


    May 10th, 2012 at 5:16 PM

    Give me the extra time with my family, man. That’s the important thing to me.

  • Sandi


    May 11th, 2012 at 4:19 AM

    I am a three year cancer survivor, and what I am really thankful for is that I did not have to make this kind of choice when I had to treat my cancer.

    Having cancer is difficult enough and enduring the chemo and radiation is enough for anyone to have to process. I don’t think that I could have rationally made a decision about whether I wanted quality or quantity.

    At that point of the diagnosis I just knew that I wanted to live and I would do whatever it took to have one more day. I wasn’t even thinking in terms of years or months- for a while I was focused only on the day by day.

  • Ginn


    May 11th, 2012 at 3:14 PM

    I really don’t think that cancer patients are trying for the gamble; they are trying to save their life. And while different approaches may appeal to different patients and doctors, it’s all about survival. They don’t wnat to suffer but I think that many cancer patients hate to see that their family members are suffering by watching them deal with the sickness and hurt. So they want to get better for themselves but for their family members too.

  • darren


    May 11th, 2012 at 11:49 PM

    yeah,they would prefer the extra time to work and pay off the debts and all the insurance companies I guess…we need a better plan with this because medical bills in our country are only going to increase and we cannot remain controlled by what these companies think we should have or do.

  • Brenda G

    Brenda G

    May 12th, 2012 at 4:43 AM

    I like to think that my mother would have been one of those fighters who didn’t care about the guarantee of success- she just wanted to live and be around for a very long time!

    Sadly there were no choices like this available to her when she was fighting against breast cancer. The only treatment available at that time literally made her sick as a dog and did little to offer her quality time left. She spent most of her time asleep or sick.

    But I know that she has to be smiling now that at least those suffering might have a choice, and more opportunities for remission and recovery than she had so many years ago.

  • smith


    May 14th, 2012 at 4:26 AM

    If you value life and the people in it at all, I have a hard time thinking that I would take anychances with that. Give me something that is proven, something that can extend my life and at the same time help me fight the cancer in my body.

  • Hyland


    May 14th, 2012 at 3:28 PM

    obviously those of you who do not see how someone could take a chance has never stared death in the face and realized that you want to fight back/ and soemtimes fighting back is about taking some risks that you may may not have considered before but that look pretty attractive if it means that you will have more time with your friends and loved ones/ please just keep that thought in mind when you have a friend with cancer who is making some choices that you may not agree with/ think about things from their point of view and see if that makes a difference in how you feel about the things they are doing and if you, at some point, might not come to a place where you would do the same exact thing

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