Topic Spotlight


PCORI Answers Critical Questions

Evidence gaps can make it difficult to know which approach to cancer care will work best given a particular patient’s needs. PCORI funds studies that seek to help patients, clinicians and others answer a range of questions they might have about cancer care, such as:

Clinician: What are the most effective treatments for a patient whose lung cancer didn’t respond to chemotherapy?

Caregiver: I live in a rural area with my husband, who recently had colorectal cancer surgery. I must drive him over 30 miles to the doctor to get several follow-up tests and screenings. Are all those follow-up tests necessary?

Patient: I have a family history of cancer, but not breast cancer. How often do I really need a mammogram?

Study Results that Support Better-Informed Decisions

An older person, sitting on a couch, is wearing an oxygen mask with a portable oxygen tank in front of them. The person is speaking with two medical professionals. Systematic Review on Breathlessness in Patients with Advanced Cancer

A final systematic review report on interventions for breathlessness in patients with advanced cancer is now available online. Produced by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in partnership with PCORI, the review compares the benefits and harms of nonpharmacological and pharmacological interventions for the management of dyspnea. Dyspnea is defined as difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath, and is a frequent and debilitating condition for individuals with advanced cancer. A related article also appeared in JAMA Oncology.


An older woman of African-American descent, seemingly recovering from cancer as she has a scarf over head, looks contemplatively out a window. Acknowledging Age-Related Issues Improves Communication
Age-related challenges—including memory loss, limited caregiver availability, or chronic conditions—can affect how older adults respond to treatment for cancer, but physicians sometimes aren’t aware of them. The COACH Study wanted to see if a report about issues related to a patient’s age would improve care-planning communication among the patient, caregiver, and doctor. As reported in JAMA Oncology, compared with patients without a report, patients who had one were engaged in and more satisfied with conversations with their physician.


Image of Young Male Health Professional Speaking with Older Male Patient in Office Comparing Intensity of Follow-Up Tests after Colorectal Cancer Surgery

Regular follow-up testing, such as CT scans or blood tests, can help patients who have had surgery for colorectal cancer find out if the cancer has come back. But researchers wanted to investigate if having more frequent tests works better for patients than having less frequent tests. They compared data from patients and found that having less frequent tests made no difference in whether patients had a second surgery, how often a patient’s cancer came back, or how likely patients were to live for five years after their first surgery.


An Asian male medical professional holding up an X-ray of the human lungs Patient Decision Aid Helps in Making Informed Decisions About Lung Cancer Screenings

A decision aid delivered through tobacco quitlines effectively reaches a screening-eligible population and results in informed decisions about lung cancer screening, according to a Texas-based PCORI-funded study. Researchers devised the patient-centered decision aid to help smokers choose between screening options based on what is most important to them, and then compared its effectiveness versus a traditional brochure that answered common questions about screening. As the research team reported in JAMA Network Open, compared to the group that received the brochure, patients who used the decision aid were markedly more prepared to make a screening decision.

Cancer Study Spotlights

Personalized Breast Cancer Screening

Women have different levels of risk for breast cancer, so the traditional approach of deciding when to have mammograms based mainly on age might not be the best one. This study compares two screening schedules—one based on risk and one on age—to see how well each detect cancer, how women feel about using a risk-based schedule, and whether that approach decreases false alarms that may lead to unneeded tests or treatments.  

Helping Cancer Survivors Return to Class

There are about 429,000 survivors of childhood and adolescent cancer in the United States, but there are not enough school programs and school liaisons available to keep up with the growing number of survivors and the challenges they face at school. Learn about the tools that PCORI engagement awardees created with parents, teachers, and other stakeholders to help ease the path back to school for childhood cancer survivors.

Increasing Colon Cancer Screening Rates in the Hispanic Population

This PCORI-funded study compared the effectiveness of two communication approaches by the Lehigh Valley Health Network in Pennsylvania that aimed to increase the colon cancer screening rate among Hispanics.

Evidence Updates from PCORI-Funded Studies

A male adult of African-American race sits at a table, with hands clasped, in a display of anxiety. Early-Stage and Localized Prostate Cancer
Early-stage prostate cancer can be treated in different ways. Two recent PCORI-funded research studies provide new information on the effects of treatments and can help patients navigate their treatment decisions.

Cancer Portfolio Snapshots

Cancer Portfolio - Most studied cancer types
Breast 24* - General 22 - Colorectal 14 - Lung 13 - Prostate 12 - Cervical 9
As of November 2020. A project may study more than one type of cancer.
Cancer Project Portfolio - 
Areas of care addressed by number of projects
Prevention: 2 - Screening: 14 - Diagnosis: 5 - Treatment: 62 - Survivorship: 12
As of November 2020. A project may study more than one area of care.