Special Issue

The role of emotions in cancer patients’ decision-making

28 Mar 2019
Ketti Mazzocco, Mariana Masiero, Maria Chiara Carriero, Gabriella Pravettoni

Introduction: Despite the attempt to make decisions based on evidence, doctors still have to consider patients’ choices which often involve other factors. In particular, emotions seem to influence the way that options and the surrounding information are interpreted and used.

Objective: The objective of the present review is to provide a brief overview of research on decision making and cancer with a specific focus on the role of emotions.

Method: Thirty-nine studies were identified and analysed. Most of the studies investigated anxiety and fear. Worry was the other psychological factor that, together with anxiety, played a crucial role in cancer-related decision-making.

Results: The roles of fear, anxiety and worry were described for detection behaviour, diagnosis, choice about prevention and curative treatments and help-seeking behaviour. Results were inconsistent among the studies. Results stressed that cognitive appraisal and emotional arousal (emotion’s intensity level) interact in shaping the decision. Moderate levels of anxiety and worry improved decision-making, while low and high levels tended to have no effect or a hindering effect on decision making. Moderating factors played an under-investigated role.

Conclusions: Decision making is a complex non-linear process that is affected by several factors, such as, for example, personal knowledge, past experiences, individual differences and certainly emotions. Research studies should investigate further potential moderators of the effect of emotions on cancer-related choice. Big data and machine learning could be a good opportunity to test the interaction between a large amount of factors that is not feasible in traditional research. New technologies such as eHealth and virtual reality can offer support for the regulation of emotions and decision making.

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