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Patients with cancer used numerical information to calculate the odds and mobilise their coping responses

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Q How do patients with cancer experience the communication of numerical information in their health care?


Interpretive description.


Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


200 patients (45% ⩾60 y of age, 74% women) who had cancer of the breast (50%), prostate (14%), gastrointestinal system (10%), head and neck (5%), cervix/uterus/ovary (5%), or other site (6%) or had lymphoma or leukaemia (7%).


Patients’ views were elicited through individual interviews, focus groups, and written accounts. Interviews and focus groups were audiotaped, transcribed, and analysed for themes.


(1) What are my chances?The context of numerical information in coping with cancer. Patients used numbers in various ways as they grappled with the meaning of the disease in their lives. They preferred to be well informed, which usually meant knowing facts about the disease. They associated this with having power, choice, or control. Calculating the odds. Patients usually associated the chances of something occurring with the appropriateness of an optimistic or hopeful attitude about it. Their expressions of frequencies and statistical concepts ranged from vague and imprecise statements to complex and sophisticated …

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  • For correspondence: Dr S Thorne, School of Nursing, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. thorne{at}

  • Source of funding: National Cancer Institute of Canada.