If you’re going to have to tell a woman that she has breast cancer, she wants to hear the news as quickly as possible, preferably face to face, ideally within 1-2 days of the biopsy being done, and have an appointment set up to deal with the diagnosis either that day or the next.
That’s what Dr Deanna Attai and colleagues found out when they surveyed over 1000 women, including 784 breast cancer survivors, to find out how and how soon they wanted to get their breast biopsy results, and compared that to what actually happened when they got their results.
It’s no surprise that in almost all cases, when it comes to hearing results, what women got did not match what they wanted. For example, while 40% of women heard their diagnosis within 1-2 days of biopsy, 80% would have wanted their results within that time frame. Fifty four percent heard their mammogram results within 2 days, but 84% wanted them the same or next day.
A few important nuances emerged from the data – given a choice between hearing results face-to-face and getting them faster over the phone, women opt for speed. If it’s a mammogram or blood test result rather than a biopsy, face-to-face is not as important.
Most interesting were the comments women made on their surveys, which should be required reading for anyone having to give bad news. Here are just a few –
- “Use the same compassion and candor you would use if you had to give this info to your loved one”
- “Nothing is worse than calling a patient and telling them to bring someone with them but not telling them why.”
- “Please remember that a bad test result may throw a person off, so much so that they cannot really hear what you are saying. Be clear and be careful. Ask the person to reflect back what you have said, so you are sure they got it!”
- “We were starving for reliable information when I was diagnosed. Wish there was information provided with the results that further explained everything.”
- “Always present situation with hope.”
- “My oncologist was exceptionally kind. He said ‘I’m sorry this is happening to you’. He was the only one of several doctors to do so’”
The study population by design sampled internet-saavy women, and Caucasian women were over-represented in the sample, so these results may not extrapolate to all women.
But the message is loud and clear – when it comes to breast cancer screening results, we are not meeting our patient’s desire for timeliness or preferred method of communication.