Physicians' attitudes to and problems with truth-telling to cancer patients

Support Care Cancer. 2000 Jan;8(1):40-5. doi: 10.1007/s005209900067.


Disclosure of a diagnosis of cancer to patients is a major problem among physicians in Italy. The aim of the study was to assess physicians' attitudes to and opinions about disclosure. A convenience sample of 675 physicians in Udine (North Italy) completed a ten-item questionnaire. About 45% indicated that, in principle, patients should always be informed of the diagnosis, but only 25% reported that they always disclosed the diagnosis in practice. Physicians with a surgical specialization employed in general hospitals endorsed disclosure of the diagnosis more frequently than GPs and older physicians. One third of the responding physicians persist in the belief that the patients never want to know the truth. Hospital doctors considered the hospital, rather than the patient's home, was the most appropriate place to inform the patients. The opposite result was found among GPs. Almost all the physicians endorsed the involvement of family members when disclosing the diagnosis, but, at the same time they also indicated that families usually prefer their ill relative not to be informed. Ninety-five per cent of physicians believed that the GP should always be involved in the processes of diagnosis and communication, and 48% indicated that the GP should communicate the diagnosis to the patient (as opposed to the physician who made the diagnosis). Having guidelines for breaking bad news to patients was indicated as an important need by 86% of the responding physicians. Despite changes in medical education, improvement of communication skills in dealing with cancer patients and their families represents an important need in healthcare settings.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Truth Disclosure*