A new study found that using an online tool that helps cancer patients for end-of-life planning does not make them more anxious, but rather increase their self-determination and positivity.

Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Penn. wondered why most oncologists refuse to have end-of-life discussions with their patients. The doctors said that they worry that it would make the patients more anxious about their conditions. Based on this response, the team initiated the study to determine the effects of end-of-life planning to cancer patients.

The study involved 200 advanced-stage cancer patients who know that their lives will end in less than 2 years. The participants were divided into two end-of-life planning approaches: the online tool and the state-approved advance directive form.

The online tool combines video and audio components called "Making Your Wishes Known: Planning Your Medical Future," (MYWK). Through the site, patients can learn about the medical conditions that may occur and the treatments available, rethink their goals and beliefs that might affect their treatment decisions, communicate those wishes to people that need to be involved, and assign someone to make decisions in behalf of them.

Prior to the study, the researchers gave both groups questionnaires to measure their anxiety, hopelessness, and hopefulness levels. The participants spent an average of 70 minutes using the online tool while the other group spent an average of 26 minutes.

The findings showed that the online tool helped in decreasing the anxiety levels of the cancer patients compared to the other group that didn't show any change. But both end-of-life planning approaches helped increase the patients' knowledge on advanced care planning and self-determination.

The researchers recommend doctors to start initiating these discussions to help educate their patients. Patients, on the other hand, can also take the initiative to open up to lessen their anxiety levels.

"The presumption of the medical profession is unless you tell us otherwise we're going to do everything," said Michael J. Green of the humanities and medicine departments at Penn State College of Medicine to Reuters Health. "It does put some responsibility on the patients to speak up and say what matters to them."

This study was published in the Dec. 23 issue of the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.