Breaking bad news: a patient's perspective

Oncologist. 2003;8(6):587-96. doi: 10.1634/theoncologist.8-6-587.


Shortly before his death in 1995, Kenneth B. Schwartz, a cancer patient at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), founded The Kenneth B. Schwartz Center at MGH. The Schwartz Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and advancing compassionate health care delivery that provides hope to the patient, support to caregivers, and encourages the healing process. The Center sponsors the Schwartz Center Rounds, a monthly multidisciplinary forum where caregivers reflect on important psychosocial issues faced by patients, their families, and their caregivers, and gain insight and support from fellow staff members. Clinicians in the field of oncology are unavoidably forced to break bad news. The Schwartz Center Rounds focuses on issues of communication between patients and their caregivers, one of the most difficult aspects of which is breaking bad news. The invited patient, a woman who had been living with a low-grade cancer for many years, spoke about her experiences both as a person living with cancer and as the daughter of a patient diagnosed with cancer. Her father's suicide, precipitated by being told his diagnosis, puts the horror of receiving bad news into stark relief. She provides a fascinating account of how she proactively adjusted to her diagnosis, and fought for optimal quality of life. This article discusses issues of support, abandonment, and how hope is conveyed, and reviews the literature that informs good clinical practice in breaking bad news.

MeSH terms

  • Caregivers
  • Communication*
  • Female
  • Humanism
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Prognosis
  • Quality of Life
  • Truth Disclosure*
  • Wounds and Injuries