Keep looking up. But not THAT high.

I’m sure MSNBC isn’t *trying* to be a downer when they report that too much optimism is bad for cancer patients’ chances of recovery:

The problem, some experts say, is that unrealistic optimism may lead patients to sign up for very early stage trials when the patients might make other choices if they really understood and completely absorbed the true risks and benefits.

To learn more about the attitudes of patients in early phase trials, which only test toxicity of drugs and aren’t intended to have a therapeutic benefit, researchers surveyed 72 patients with advanced cancer. All had signed up for phase I or phase II drug trials, according to a report published in the January issue of the journal IRB: Ethics & Human Research.

Ultimately, the new findings create an ethical dilemma for researchers signing patients up for these early stage trials, [Lynn A. Jansen, lead author of the new study and professor at the Center for Ethics in Health Care at the Oregon Health and Science University,] said. It means that patients aren’t really giving informed consent, she explained. Even though a patient may parrot back the list of risks and benefits that have been explained to them, they may still have unrealistic expectations that the therapy is likely to help them.

Jansen compares this kind of thinking to what smokers sometimes do. Though they read the risks listed on warning labels, some smokers believe that because of some factor — such as being young, exercising or eating healthy — the risks of lung cancer are lower for them.

On the other hand:

“If you want to think you are going to be the one in 50 or one in 100 people who gets helped by a therapy, I’m not going to take that away from you,” said Dr. Adam Brufsky, associate director for clinical investigation at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cancer Institute.

“By the time patients are signing up for Phase I trials, their only other option is palliative care. Some people choose that. They say they want to spend whatever time they have left doing what they want and not coming in for treatments and tests. But others say they want to go down fighting.”