If health care providers routinely ask patients with cancer a series of questions about their symptoms, this may result in improved care that extends their lives. The benefits to longer survival may be comparable to those provided by new cancer treatments, The Washington Post reports.

Recent studies have focused on the benefit of addressing patient-reported outcomes (PROs), which can be easily obtained via weekly online surveys. Researchers are calling for oncologists to routinely ask their patients about such matters.

One such investigator, Lisa Barbera, MD, of the University of Calgary, told the Post that the beneficial effects on longevity from addressing PROs may be indirect. For example, finding ways to mitigate symptoms or side effects may allow people to continue a particular cancer treatment without having to minimize the doage or duration. That can allow them to stay on the most effective treatment.

Barbera was behind an analysis of cancer patients treated at Cancer Care Ontario between 2007 and 2015. They were provided a 16-question survey about their symptoms when they checked in; clinicians addressed their responses during their appointment.

Such a protocol is far from routine in health care settings around the world.

The Canadian investigators looked at the patients who had ever answered a survey and compared them with those who never had done so, matching the two groups according to age, sex, cancer type and date of diagnosis. Analyzing the outcomes of the 120,000 cumulative patients, the researchers, who published their findings in The Journal of Clinical Oncology, found that those who had responded to a survey had less than half the odds of dying during the study period than their non-survey-answering peers.

A pair of recent studies reached similar findings and focused on the PRO-centered care’s effects on survival.

One study, published in JAMA, looked at 750 patients with advanced cancers between 2007 and 2011 who received treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Those who responded to weekly online questions about symptoms lived an average of five months longer than those who did not respond.

In another study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, French researchers looked at 100 people treated for advanced lung cancer, about half of whom responded to an online program that asked about their symptoms. In this case, the survival benefit associated with the program was an additional seven months.

It is common for new cancer treatments hitting the market to extend life by about a half a year,just as these PRO-focused interventions appear to do.

Research has found that asking patients about their symptoms and then adjusting care accordingly also improves quality of life and reduces trips to the emergency room.

To read the Washington Post article, click here.

For more on managing treatment side effects, click here.