Knowing the Deets of a Cancer Diagnosis Doubles Survival Rate

Getting a misdiagnosis of cancer is, unfortunately, surprisingly common. While nobody is questioning doctors’ devotion to their patients, cancer can be a complicated disease and even the best doctors underestimate how often they misdiagnosis. A 2013 study in Boston found that the majority of docs thought the rate of misdiagnosis was between zero and 10 percent. But in fact, reports a 2014 study in MJ Quality & Safety, about 28 percent of all news delivered is incorrect in some way. Some cancers are much more likely to be missed, the Boston study found, with researchers finding errors in up to 75 percent of mammograms for breast cancer and 71 percent of scans for lung cancer.

And now, a new study preaches the powers of knowledge even more: Cancer patients who are given accurate, detailed information about their cancer type, treatment plan, and how they should expect their life to be affected were twice as likely to survive their illness than those who were left in the dark, according to a new British study of over 10,000 people with all types of the illness

There was one area where this was not true: People given details about potential side effects were 35 percent less likely to have a positive outcome. The doctors speculate that this type of knowledge increased fear and stress, burdening an already over-stressed immune system. How mood and attitude affects cancer patients’ health can be tricky. For instance, a study published earlier this year by the Australian Medical Association found that cancer patients who become depressed had a lower chance of survival—yet those who were highly optimistic did not have higher survival rates. Rather, it was the people who had a realistic view of their situation who did the best. The Aussie docs said the key was giving people enough, and the right kind of information to motivate them to follow their treatment plans.

The bottom line: There is a certain amount of information that can help your survival rates, but also a line that, once crossed, could harm your health. This emphasizes the importance of getting the right diagnosis from the right doctor. (10 Questions Your Doctor Is Too Afraid to Ask You (and Why You Need the Answers).) And there are simple steps you can take to do just that if you’re ever put in the situation. First, don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion (a good doctor will even give you a referral to another professional), ask questions about your diagnosis, and speak up if something just doesn’t feel right. After all, when it comes to your health, nothing is more powerful than knowing the facts.

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