Breaking bad news to cancer patients: survey and analysis



Purpose: To find out how patients perceived the disclosure of news about their cancer as regards the physician counselling and how they perceived the flow of information between hospital-based and family physicians.

Methods: 272 cancer patients were polled with a 16-item questionnaire.

Results: 252 cancer patients, 92.6% of those asked, completed the questionnaire. 37.7% (f:35.4%, m:41.8%) stated that the fact that they had cancer was presented to them ‘very empathically’ or ‘empathically’. 62.3% (f:64.7%, m:58.3%) stated that it was presented to them ‘not so empathically’ or ‘ not at all empathically’. When patients had been counselled by family physicians they were more likely to state that it had been done ‘very empathically’ or ‘empathically’, in contrast to when they had been counselled by hospital-oncologists or self-employed specialists (81.8% vs. 41.2% vs. 41.2%; p=0.001). Significantly more patients thought that they had been given adequate opportunity to ask the questions they considered important when counselled by a family physician (81.8%) as compared to counselling by a hospital-oncologist (43.5%; p=0.002) or a self-employed specialist (44.3%; p=0.001). 56.8% preferred to discuss the suggested cancer therapies with an oncologist. 87.5% of patients considered the exchange of information between the hospital-based specialists and their family physician ‘very important’ or ‘important’; more than half of all patients stated that this exchange of information was ‘rather poor’ or ‘poor’.

Conclusions: Oncologists should involve family physicians in disclosing bad news to patients. There are considerable deficiencies regarding information–exchange in cancer care in Austria. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.