Background: Physician-patient communication is of critical importance when a breast cancer diagnosis is made, because the emotionally overwhelmed patient must be educated about her disease and available treatments so she can participate in decisions about her care. A research study addressed the hypothesis that patients whose surgeons used psychotherapeutic techniques during the cancer diagnostic interview would have better psychologic adjustment to their cancer.
Methods: One hundred women surveyed 6 months after surgery completed the Cancer Diagnostic Interview Scale (CDIS) and the SCL-90-R, a measure of psychologic well being.
Results: Factor analysis of the CDIS revealed that the physician's caring attitude was perceived by the women as most important, with information-giving as a much weaker component. Multiple regression analysis supported the hypothesis that psychologic adjustment was predicted by physician behavior during the cancer diagnostic interview. Other significant predictors of adjustment were a history of psychiatric problems and premorbid life stressors.
Conclusions: Provision of information needed for decision-making appears to be valued largely within the context of a caring physician-patient relationship. Specific surgeons' behaviors believed to facilitate patient adjustment include expressing empathy, allowing sufficient time for patients to absorb the cancer diagnosis, providing information, and engaging the patient in treatment decision-making.