Background: To ensure that patients make informed medical decisions, patient education materials must communicate treatment risks and benefits.
Objective: To survey publicly available patient education materials and assess their suitability to support informed decision making in early-stage prostate cancer.
Design: Cross-sectional review of Internet, print, and multimedia sources.
Setting: University data analysis laboratory.
Measurements: The content of 44 materials that described all standard treatment options was reviewed. Top-rated documents underwent plain-language review. Total score on 54 content items and accuracy, balance, and plain-language evaluation was measured.
Results: 502 of 546 patient education materials did not describe all standard treatments (watchful waiting, surgery, radiation, and hormone therapy). Eighty percent of the 44 materials that addressed standard treatments and underwent content review described anatomy, physiology, stage, and grade of cancer. Half of the materials fully described radical prostatectomy and radiation therapy. One third of the materials included risks and benefits of each treatment; none explicitly compared outcomes of all treatments in a single summary. Information was accurate and balanced but did not include key content for informed consent.
Limitations: The search was restricted to publicly available materials and did not include books or materials written in languages other than English. The accuracy, balance, and plain-language reviews were evaluated by 1 reviewer. The criteria reflect the authors' focus on informed decision making. Other aspects of health education may require a different evaluation template.
Conclusions: Currently available patient education materials on early-stage prostate cancer treatment do not contain comprehensive information about the risks and benefits of each treatment. To assist patients and physicians in choosing among prostate cancer treatment options, a new generation of materials is needed.