22 July 2002
Dying cancer patients need more information from doctors
Patients suffering from terminal cancer should be given more information by doctors, according to an important new study.
"Doctors have difficulty being honest with patients when the news is very bad," says Professor Lesley Fallowfield, director of the Psychosocial Oncology Group, which is funded by Cancer Research UK and located at the University of Sussex.
"They often underestimate the information needs of their patients, and may censor the information in the belief that they are being kind."
Professor Fallowfield, Dr Valerie Jenkins and Dr Hazel Beveridge studied 2,850 patients and found that the overwhelming majority of them wanted to be given as much information as possible, regardless of whether the news was good or bad.
"Failure to give adequate information about a patient's true prognosis or what lies ahead can leave patients isolated and scared," Professor Fallowfield explains.
In general, women wanted more information than men, and those under 65 wanted more information than those over 65.
"Patients need to plan and make decisions about their time of death, put their affairs in order, say good-byes or forgive old adversaries and be protected from embarking on futile therapies," says Professor Fallowfield. "It is particularly upsetting to watch families, who have not been gently helped to confront reality, locked into stilted discussions about trivia or frozen in silence."
The research showed that doctors feel less confident when talking with seriously ill cancer patients and are less satisfied with their consultations than when talking to patients with a good prognosis. More communication skills training is needed and Professor Fallowfield's team are working with the Department of Health to introduce better training for doctors.
The research 'Truth may hurt but deceit hurts more: communication in palliative care' appears in the journal Palliative Medicine, Volume 16, Issue 4, July 2002.
Notes for editors
For further information, please contact Peter Simmons or Alison Field, University of Sussex, Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 877456, email P.J.Simmons@sussex.ac.uk or A.Field@sussex.ac.uk.
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