Palliative Care Training and Decision-Making for Patients with Advanced Cancer: A Comparison of Surgeons and Medical Physicians

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9 Scopus citations


Background: Surgical decision-making in patients with advanced cancer requires careful thought and deliberation to balance the high risks with the potential palliative benefits. We sought to compare surgical decision-making and palliative care training among surgeons and medical physicians who commonly treat advanced cancer patients. We hypothesized that surgeons will report less palliative care training compared with medical physicians, and deficits in palliative care training will be associated with more aggressive treatment recommendations in clinical scenarios of advanced cancer patients with symptomatic surgical conditions. Study Design: Practicing surgeons, medical oncologists, intensivists, and palliative care physicians from a large urban city and its surrounding areas were surveyed with a 32-item questionnaire consisting of a survey addressing palliative care training and 4 clinical vignettes depicting patients with advanced cancer and symptomatic surgical conditions. Results: Of the 299 physicians surveyed, 102 responded (response rate 34.1%). Surgeons reported fewer hours of palliative care training during residency, fellowship, and continuing medical education combined (median 10, IQR 2-15) compared with medical oncologists (median 30, IQR 20-80) and medical intensivists (median 50 IQR 30-100), P <.05. Additionally, 20% of surgeons reported no history of any palliative care training. Analysis of physician recommendations for treatment of the 4 clinical vignettes showed minimal consensus regardless of physician specialty. Absence of palliative care training was associated with recommending major operative intervention more frequently compared with physicians with ≥40 hours of palliative care training (0.7 ± 0.7 vs 1.6 ± 0.8, P =.01). Conclusion: Substantial deficiencies in palliative care training persist among surgeons and are associated with more aggressive recommendations for treatment for the selected scenarios presented in patients with advanced cancer. These findings highlight the need for greater efforts systemwide in palliative care education among surgeons, including incorporation of a structured palliative care training curriculum in graduate and continuing surgical education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSurgery (United States)
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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