The poll of 1,236 patients with cancer and survivors was conducted online between August 27, 2022 and September 12, 2022. The margin of error is ±2.8%.
While 84% of patients with cancer reported feeling “very confident” in the quality of their care, compared to men with cancer, women with cancer were twice as likely (14% vs 7%) to feel only “somewhat” confident about the quality of their care, and women with cancer whose diagnoses came after experiencing symptoms were more likely to report that their symptoms were not taken “very seriously” (31% vs 21%) or not taken seriously “at all” (8% vs 1%).
Some of the most common experiences of dissatisfaction among patients with cancer included 12% of patients who felt that their symptoms were ignored or dismissed, 11% who had to push for tests their providers didn’t want to order, and 9% who had to see multiple providers to get a diagnosis. Women with cancer were more likely to feel that they had to prove their symptoms to a dismissive provider (8%) and were twice as likely than men with cancer to say that they had to report their symptoms five or more times to their provider before they received the care that led to their diagnoses (6% vs 3%).
“I began seeing my [primary care physician] over a year before I was diagnosed with stage III cancer. I was told to reduce stress and follow up…I was told I should attend therapy and possibly take antidepressant medication. As a busy working woman in my 30s, I feel [like] all of my symptoms were dismissed because I didn’t fit the mold of what cancer looked like,” said one survey respondent.
“Having to prove your symptoms or bring them up repeatedly in order to get a diagnosis is a burden no patient [with cancer] should face,” said Lisa Lacasse, President of the ACS CAN. “We need to make sure people’s symptoms are taken seriously and all patients [with cancer]—regardless of gender—receive high-quality and respectful care.”
Among the patients and survivors surveyed, one-third of them sought additional care—such as a second opinion or additional testing—after feeling as though their symptoms were being dismissed. Of the patients who sought additional care, 48% of them reported receiving their cancer diagnoses or getting a corrected cancer diagnosis as a result. Women with cancer were three times more likely than men with cancer to say that their diagnoses changed as a result of the additional care.
“My doctor did not believe me when I said I had pain in my breast. He put his hand on my knee and told me to smile when I became upset. It wasn’t until [I found a] new oncology team that I felt supported or heard,” said another survey respondent.
“In order to end cancer as we know it for everyone, we need to ensure [that] everyone is treated equally. Providers need to consider and correct any possible gender bias in how they treat patients. [Dismissal] risks needless suffering and delayed diagnosis, which could result in avoidable death from this disease. And having access to patient navigators—who can help answer questions and listen to patient concerns—would also be an important step,” said Ms. Lacasse.
Disclosure: For full study results, visit fightcancer.org.
The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.