Interacting with cancer patients: the significance of physicians' communication behavior

Soc Sci Med. 2003 Sep;57(5):791-806. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(02)00449-5.


A diagnosis of cancer typically results in patients experiencing uncertainty about and loss of control over their situation, which in turn has a negative influence on their health outcomes. Cancer treatment further disrupts patients' quality of life. Throughout their cancer journey patients often rely on their physicians to provide them with social/interpersonal, informational, and decisional support. A growing body of research shows that physicians' communication behavior does indeed have a positive impact on patient health outcomes. Thus, the patient-physician interaction assumes great significance in the cancer care delivery process. It is encouraging to note that research in this area, largely dominated by studies conducted in primary care, is attracting the attention of cancer researchers. In an attempt to encourage and aid future research on patient-physician communication in cancer care, this paper presents a critical evaluation of existing literature on key elements of physicians' communication behavior (i.e., interpersonal communication, information exchange, and facilitation of patient involvement in decision-making). Different approaches to assessing physician behavior are discussed followed by a review of key findings linking physician behavior with cancer patient health outcomes. Finally, potential limitations of existing research are highlighted and areas for future research are identified.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Patient Participation
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Quality of Life
  • Uncertainty