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The Importance of Advance Directives for Cancer Patients

There is no easy way to deal with the physical, mental, and emotional challenges of a battle against cancer. But being fully informed about the treatment options and legal ramifications of certain medical decisions is a good start. Unfortunately, there remains a great deal of confusion regarding cancer treatments, even among patients themselves. For example, a recent national study of 1,200 patients with aggressive cancers found that many patients were confused about whether the drugs they were receiving were intended to help them deal with the effects of the cancer or actually fight the cancer itself.
Specifically, 69% of patients with advanced cancer of the lung and 81% of patients with advanced cancer of the colon mistakenly “believe that the drugs could render them cancer-free.”

Doctors suggest that more assistance is needed to discuss the prognosis with cancer patients, including someone who can help patients cope with the transition and someone who can explain advance directives.

Having an advance care directive helps patients get the treatment that they really want and sometimes avoid care that they don’t. In an article published by the New York Times, some patients in California have found comfort by completing a form called Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST).
This form acts as an advance directive and provides your doctors with information regarding the treatment you may or may not want.

A physician who just lost his father, Keith Loring, M.D., claims that POLST allowed him and his family to “come to a very comfortable consensus despite a longstanding history of disagreement over his earlier long-term care issues.”

However, POLST is not for everyone and this may not be the best option for you. The best way to determine your future needs is to discuss all of your legal options with a competent attorney. The POLST document may not consider all of the options that you may want to have available to you. You may also need other documents to be executed, such as a living will, durable power of attorney for health care and a living trust.

When you are diagnosed with cancer, time becomes even more precious for you and your family. You should consider planning for the future even if your illness seems to be treatable or the inevitable can be prolonged. Determining what you may need should be based on your preferences and advice given to you by doctors, caregivers, family members, and an experienced estate planning attorney. Surround yourself with the support that you need and provide support to your loved ones who have been diagnosed with cancer.

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