Sustaining hope when communicating with terminally ill patients and their families: a systematic review

Psychooncology. 2008 Jul;17(7):641-59. doi: 10.1002/pon.1288.


The aim of this systematic review was to examine studies that have investigated sustaining hope during prognostic and end-of-life issues discussions with terminally ill patients and their families. A comprehensive search of databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsychINFO, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials) and handsearching, from 1985 to June 2006, identified 27 studies. This review suggests that the issues surrounding hope in this context are complex. Despite the lack of unanimity among researchers regarding the definition of hope, findings suggest that balancing hope with honesty is an important skill for health professionals (HPs). Many patients seem to be able to maintain a sense of hope despite acknowledging the terminal nature of their illness. Patients and caregivers mostly preferred honest and accurate information, provided with empathy and understanding. Many different sources of hope were identified in this context in broad aspects of life, not just the medical situation. HPs need to recognize this spectrum of hope and appreciate that patients may simultaneously hope for 'cure' while acknowledging the terminal nature of their illness. HPs may help patients to cope with their terminal prognosis by exploring and fostering realistic forms of hope that are meaningful for the particular patient and their family.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Communication*
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Professional-Family Relations
  • Prognosis
  • Terminal Care / psychology*
  • Truth Disclosure*