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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

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USC Study Examines Risk and Reward for Cancer Patients

USC study finds that most prefer to live longer, no matter what the treatment risks.

A new study published in a special edition of the journal Health Affairs found that for patients, the priority in cancer treatment tends to be living as long as possible.

Darius Lakdawalla, director of research at the Shaeffer Center at USC and associate professor at USC's Price School of Public Policy, headed the study.

Lakdawalla and his staff analyzed 150 patients currently going through treatment for cancer and discovered that 77 percent would prefer treatments that "offer a 50/50 chance of either adding three years or no additional survival" than those that would guarantee eighteen months of survival.

The study challenges conventional wisdom about what patients care about in terms of treatment.

Outside groups that play important roles in treatment, such as insurance companies, "have generally assumed that patients care about the average gain in survival...but patients facing a fatal disease with relatively short remaining life expectancy may have less to lose, and be more willing to swing for the fences," Lakdawalla said.

The special issue of Health Affairs contains several more studies that examine the relationship between spending and treatment.

One study even steps outside of the United States, comparing lifespans of American cancer patients with those of Europeans.

The studies could help open a new platform of discussion among patients, relatives, insurance companies, government agencies and others about what should be prioritized in the process of treatment.

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