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Cross-Cultural Issues in the Disclosure of Cancer


  • Jill L. Mitchell MA

    1. American Studies, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota., BA, Cultural Anthropology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey.
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Jill L.Mitchell 108 Mattek Ave., DeKalb, IL 60115.


purpose: To increase awareness of cultural differences in the disclosure of a cancer diagnosis or prognosis, the author reviews several surveys of patients and physicians from around the world.

overview: The Western medical community is increasingly emphasizing full truthful dislosure of cancer diagnoses or prognoses and respect for autonomy as necessary prerequisites to ethical practice. However, surveys of European, Japanese, Native American, and various ethnic American (including Korean, Chinese, Mexican, Hispanic, African, and European American) cancer patients and physicians reveal that many cultures consider complete and accurate disclosure of cancer undesirable. Cultural differences in the rates of disclosure of a cancer diagnosis or prognosis; the physician's use of euphemisms to give a true or false diagnosis; as well as considerations of how to disclose a cancer diagnosis are described.

clinical implications: Developing an awareness about cross-cultural practices regarding cancer disclosure issues allows the clinician to become more sensitive to the expectations of culturally and individually diverse cancer patients. To this end, all healthcare professionals should be informed about how the patient would like to be informed of a diagnosis and how involved he or she would like family members to be. In addition, an awareness of the use of nonverbal communication in some cultures and the psychosocial impact of certain terms, such as “cancer,” is essential. Often, phrases such as “ malignant tumor” or “growth” are less inflammatory and are more readily accepted. In ascertaining a knowledge of various cultural preferences and developing a sensitivity to these preferences, clinicians are better able to provide effective care to individuals from a variety of cultural and individual backgrounds.