Step-by-step Decisions Lead to Smarter Treatment Choices

Choosing a treatment option for breast cancer can be almost as confusing and frightening as the diagnosis itself. But it doesn’t have to be. A new study from the University of Michigan has found that women make smarter choices about treatments when they receive information and make decisions in small doses rather than all at once.

The researchers wanted to know if asking women to make a series of simpler choices instead of one complex decision would help them better understand the benefits of each treatment. In the study, researchers asked two groups of women to choose between different breast cancer treatment options. The first group got all the information and made all the choices at once. The second group received the same information, but it was divided into two separate choices: First they chose whether to take hormonal therapy, and if they said yes, then they decided whether or not to add chemotherapy.

The women who received the treatment options all at once were more likely to be confused by the information, and more of them chose chemotherapy regardless of whether it would give them a benefit of 1 percent or 5 percent. But the women who made their decisions separately were more likely to choose chemotherapy only if it would give them a larger benefit.

By presenting information piece-by-piece, doctors can help ensure that patients truly understand the benefits before they choose an aggressive treatment like chemotherapy, said Brian Zikmund-Fisher, study author and assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. To read the full study, click here.