SAN FRANCISCO (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS)Medical oncologists empathize with their patients and feel responsible for providing them emotional/psychological support, but many experience the negative emotional impact of their work when treating women with metastatic breast cancer, according to survey results presented at the symposium.

Medical oncologists with less experience appeared to be more impacted by their emotions as compared to physicians with more experience, and the study authors noted that “acknowledging medical oncologists’ emotions is important and underscores their own need for psychological/emotional support.”

Dr. Adam M. Brufsky, associate chief, division of hematology/oncology and codirector, Comprehensive Breast Cancer Center at the University of Pittsburgh, and his colleagues surveyed medical oncologists who treat five or more women per month with metastatic breast cancer, and surveys were also completed by patients with the disease. The goal of the study was to evaluate the emotional impact on the oncologist. The surveys were conducted from June to August 2014.

A total of 359 patients (median age 53 years) and 252 medical oncologists (median age 49 years and a median of 15 years in practice) completed the survey.

At the initial diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, a larger proportion of oncologists as compared with patients reported that showing care and compassion (81% vs. 72%) and helping patients cope with their diagnosis (63% vs. 51%) were very important. A smaller percentage of respondents felt that referring patients to support services (24% vs. 38%) was very important, but a greater number of oncologists who were practicing less than 15 years, as compared to those in practice longer, stated that referrals to support services were very important at first diagnosis (30% vs. 19%). Dr. Brufsky and his team also found that a slightly higher number of more experienced oncologists perceived emotions like anxiety, commitment, hopefulness, and determination in their patients at their initial diagnosis.

A large proportion of medical oncologists (42%) reported that treating women with this diagnosis generated a great deal of negative emotion, but a majority (81% strongly/somewhat) agreed that it is unprofessional to let emotions impact treatment recommendations. However, nearly a quarter (23%) reported that emotions kept them from providing some information to patients.

The vast majority of respondents (93%) said that they did not want to give their patients false hope, but yet 27% reported that in certain situations, they do not discuss the fact that metastatic breast cancer is incurable with their patients.