The accuracy of predicting survival in individual patients with cancer

Clinical article

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  • 1 Departments of Neurosurgery and Radiation Oncology, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York, New York;
  • 2 Departments of Neurological Surgery,
  • 3 Radiation Oncology,
  • 4 Medical Oncology, and
  • 5 Neurology, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania;
  • 6 Department of Radiation Oncology, General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts;
  • 7 Department of Radiation Oncology, North Shore Long Island Jewish Medical Center, Manhasset, New York;
  • 8 Department of Neurosurgery, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, Virginia;
  • 9 Department of Neurosurgery, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida;
  • 10 Brain Tumor and Neuro-Oncology Center, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio;
  • 11 Department of Neurosurgery, University of California, Irvine, California;
  • 12 Department of Neurological Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, California;
  • 13 Minneapolis Radiation Oncology, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and
  • 14 Department of Oncology, University of Lausanne, Switzerland
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Object

Estimating survival time in cancer patients is crucial for clinicians, patients, families, and payers. To provide appropriate and cost-effective care, various data sources are used to provide rational, reliable, and reproducible estimates. The accuracy of such estimates is unknown.

Methods

The authors prospectively estimated survival in 150 consecutive cancer patients (median age 62 years) with brain metastases undergoing radiosurgery. They recorded cancer type, number of brain metastases, neurological presentation, extracranial disease status, Karnofsky Performance Scale score, Recursive Partitioning Analysis class, prior whole-brain radiotherapy, and synchronous or metachronous presentation. Finally, the authors asked 18 medical, radiation, or surgical oncologists to predict survival from the time of treatment.

Results

The actual median patient survival was 10.3 months (95% CI 6.4–14). The median physician-predicted survival was 9.7 months (neurosurgeons = 11.8 months, radiation oncologists = 11.0 months, and medical oncologist = 7.2 months). For patients who died before 10 months, both neurosurgeons and radiation oncologists generally predicted survivals that were more optimistic and medical oncologists that were less so, although no group could accurately predict survivors alive at 14 months. All physicians had individual patient survival predictions that were incorrect by as much as 12–18 months, and 14 of 18 physicians had individual predictions that were in error by more than 18 months. Of the 2700 predictions, 1226 (45%) were off by more than 6 months and 488 (18%) were off by more than 12 months.

Conclusions

Although crucial, predicting the survival of cancer patients is difficult. In this study all physicians were unable to accurately predict longer-term survivors. Despite valuable clinical data and predictive scoring techniques, brain and systemic management often led to patient survivals well beyond estimated survivals.

Abbreviations used in this paper:KPS = Karnofsky Performance Scale; RPA = recursive partitioning analysis; WBRT = whole-brain radiation therapy.

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Contributor Notes

Address correspondence to: Douglas Kondziolka, M.D., Department of Neurosurgery, NYU Langone Medical Center, 530 First Ave., Ste. 8R, New York, NY 10016. email: douglas.kondziolka@nyumc.org.

Please include this information when citing this paper: published online October 25, 2013; DOI: 10.3171/2013.9.JNS13788.

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