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Communication in Cancer Care (PDQ®): Supportive care - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Factors Affecting Communication


On the other hand, patients in Italy, China, and Japan;[14] patients in Spain;[16] patients in Tanzania;[17] and Korean Americans and Mexican Americans believe that there is a positive value inherent in nondisclosure of diagnosis and of a terminal prognosis.[14,15,16] In the family-centered model of medical decision making, such as that found among Mexican Americans and Korean Americans, among Ethiopian refugees, and in Italy, autonomy is seen as isolating.[14,16] Patients with an Egyptian background believe that dignity, identity, and security are conferred by belonging to a family and dealing with illness within a family context.[18] Navajo culture provides another example of diverse cultural attitudes toward illness. Navajos feel that order and harmony are disrupted by receiving negative information;[14] receiving an unfavorable diagnosis and prognosis is seen as a curse.[16]

In some cultures, the negative stigma associated with the word cancer is so strong that the use of the word can be perceived as rude, disrespectful, and even causal. A study investigating the puzzling factors and solutions of family-related barriers to truthfulness with patients who have terminal cancer was conducted through a nationwide survey conducted in Taiwan. The results showed that families believe it is unnecessary to tell aged patients the truth, and patients can be happier without knowing the truth.[19] For Ethiopian refugees who are diagnosed with cancer, it is important to tell the family first but also important not to give unfavorable information at night so as to avoid the burden of a sleepless night.[16] An awareness of the use of nonverbal communication in some cultures and the psychosocial impact of terms such as cancer is helpful. Often, phrases such as malignant tumor or growth are less inflammatory and are more readily accepted,[16] as is approaching loaded topics indirectly. Thus, it is essential to assess and consider patients cultural beliefs when communicating with them about their cancer.

A study of the breast cancer experience of Asian American women [20] found that a lack of knowledge about breast cancer, cultural factors related to beliefs about illness, gender role and family obligations (e.g., self-sacrifice), and language barriers contributed to Asian American women's apparent lack of active involvement in their care.

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