Purpose: To provide a state-of-the-art review of communication skills training (CST) that will guide the establishment of a universal curriculum for fellows of all cancer specialties undertaking training as oncology professionals today.
Methods: Extensive literature review including meta-analyses of trials, conceptual models, techniques, and potential curricula provides evidence for the development of an appropriate curriculum and CST approach. Examples from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center CST program are incorporated.
Results: A core curriculum embraces CST modules in breaking bad news and discussing unanticipated adverse events, discussing prognosis, reaching a shared treatment decision, responding to difficult emotions, coping with survivorship, running a family meeting, and transitioning to palliative care and end of life. Achievable outcomes are growth in clinician's self-efficacy, uptake of new communication strategies and skills, and transfer of these strategies and skills into the clinic. Outcomes impacting patient satisfaction, improved adaptation, and enhanced quality of life are still lacking.
Conclusion: Future communication challenges include genetic risk communication, concepts like watchful waiting, cumulative radiation risk, late effects of treatment, discussing Internet information and unproven therapies, phase I trial enrollment, and working as a multidisciplinary team. Patient benefits, such as increased treatment adherence and enhanced adaptation, need to be demonstrated from CST.