Triadic treatment decision-making in advanced cancer: a pilot study of the roles and perceptions of patients, caregivers, and oncologists

Thomas W. LeBlanc, Nick Bloom, Steven P. Wolf, Sarah G. Lowman, Kathryn I. Pollak, Karen E. Steinhauser, Dan Ariely, James A. Tulsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Purpose: The research on cancer treatment decision-making focuses on dyads; the full “triad” of patients, oncologists, and caregivers remains largely unstudied. We investigated how all members of this triad perceive and experience decisions related to treatment for advanced cancer. Methods: At an academic cancer center, we enrolled adult patients with advanced gastrointestinal or hematological malignancies, their caregivers, and their oncologists. Triad members completed a semi-structured qualitative interview and a survey measuring decisional conflict and perceived influence of the other triad members on treatment decisions. Results: Seventeen patients, 14 caregivers, and 10 oncologists completed the study. Patients and caregivers reported little decisional regret and voiced high satisfaction with their decisions, but levels of decisional conflict were high. We found sizeable disagreement among triad members’ perceptions and preferences. For example, patients and oncologists disagreed about the caregiver’s influence on the decision 56% of the time. In addition, many patients and caregivers preferred to defer to their oncologist about treatment decisions, felt like no true decision existed, and disagreed with their oncologist about how many treatment options had been presented. Conclusions: Patients, caregivers, and oncologists have discordant perceptions of the cancer treatment decision-making process, and bring different preferences about how they want to make decisions. These data suggest that oncologists should assess patients’ and caregivers’ decisional preferences, explicitly signal that a decision needs to be made whenever approaching an important crossroads in treatment and ensure that patients and caregivers understand the full range of presented options.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1197-1205
Number of pages9
JournalSupportive Care in Cancer
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Advanced cancer
  • Treatment decisions
  • Triadic decision-making

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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