Cancer patients' trust in their physician-a review

Psychooncology. 2011 Mar;20(3):227-41. doi: 10.1002/pon.1745.


Objective: Patient's trust in their physician is crucial for desirable treatment outcomes such as satisfaction and adherence. In oncology, trust is possibly even more essential, due to the life-threatening nature of cancer. A review was undertaken of the current knowledge of the conceptualization, assessment, correlates, and consequences of cancer patients' trust in their physician.

Methods: The empirical literature published in peer-reviewed journals between October 1988 and October 2008 was searched, employing all combinations and variations of the following keywords: trust, physician-patient relations, and cancer.

Results: The search identified 45 relevant papers, only 11 of which drew attention to the conceptualization of trust, and 5 of which focused on trust as the primary subject of interest. Trust in physicians was strong overall. Patients' trust appeared to be enhanced by the physician's perceived technical competence, honesty, and patient-centred behaviour. A trusting relationship between patient and physician resulted in facilitated communication and medical decision making, a decrease of patient fear, and better treatment adherence.

Conclusions: A lack of focus on trust and the conceptualization thereof, strong methodological variations between studies and a possible publication bias lead us to conclude that cancer patients' trust in their physician deserves more systematic, theoretically based, research attention. Consequently, studies are needed aimed at gaining a thorough understanding of the nature and impact of cancer patients' trust in their physician, and how the interaction between physician and patient may contribute to such trust.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Educational Status
  • Humans
  • Medical Oncology
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Patient Compliance*
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Patient-Centered Care
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Physicians
  • Trust*