Incurable, invisible and inconclusive: Watchful waiting for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and implications for doctor-patient communication
Patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) find it hard to accept a diagnosis of an incurable cancer for which no treatment is recommended and which may not cause symptoms for many years. We used qualitative interviews with 12 people with CLL managed by watchful waiting, drawn from a maximum variation sample of 39 adults with leukaemia, to explore accounts of watchful waiting and implications for clinical management. Patients with CLL recalled being given little information about the condition and wanted to know more about how it might affect them in the future. The invisibility of CLL meant that some chose not to disclose the diagnosis to others. Check-ups sometimes felt cursory, causing dissatisfaction. As symptoms increased, lifestyle adaptations became essential, well before treatment was warranted. Patients with CLL on watchful waiting experience levels of depression, anxiety and quality of life similar to those in active treatment; our qualitative approach has illuminated some of the reasons for the negative psychological impacts. We relate our findings to perceptions of the illness state, doctor-patient communication, and work pressure. We recommend that specialists could better support patients by acknowledging psychological impacts of CLL, actively listening to patients' concerns, and meeting their needs for information. © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.