How should doctors communicate the diagnosis of cancer to patients?

Ann Med. 1999 Oct;31(5):336-41. doi: 10.3109/07853899908995900.


The majority of doctors in North America, Australia and much of Europe now inform patients about a cancer diagnosis. However, many doctors report that they have difficulty disclosing a cancer diagnosis. Poor doctor-patient communication skills may lead to psychological distress including increased anxiety and depression and poorer psychological adjustment to cancer. Presenting 'bad' news in an unhurried, honest, balanced and empathic fashion has been shown to produce greater satisfaction with communication of the news. Consensus guidelines have been developed to assist doctors to disclose a cancer diagnosis. Important aspects include exploring the patient's expectations, warning him/her that the news is bad, giving the news at the patient's own pace, allowing time for the patient to react and eliciting the patient's concerns. Doctor-patient communication can be improved by including training courses in communication skills for medical students and clinicians and providing audiotapes of bad news consultations to enhance patient recall of information and increase patient satisfaction with communication. Additional research is needed to investigate effects of strategies to implement guidelines for delivering a cancer diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Guidelines as Topic*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Truth Disclosure*