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Communication in Cancer Care (PDQ®): Supportive care - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Unique Aspects of Communication with Cancer Patients


Patient Information Needs

Imparting information to the patient serves a number of key functions: it grants patients a sense of control, and it can reduce anxiety, improve compliance, create realistic expectations, promote self-care and participation, and generate feelings of safety and security. Many patients actively seek information and identify acquiring information as a priority. In one study,[14] with 12 specific information and support topics listed, patients chose information as their greatest need. Ninety-seven percent of patients wanted more feedback on the progress of the cancer, 88% wanted more information on the probable future of their illness, and 91% wanted more information about their illness. Another study [15] found that 83% of the breast cancer patients interviewed wanted as much information as possible, 16% wanted limited information, and 91% of women wanted to know their prognosis before beginning adjuvant treatment; 63% wanted their oncologist to ask them whether they wanted to know their prognosis. Patient needs may, however, shift to an emphasis on support immediately after the first consultation. A study has shown that 63% of patients also wanted more assurance that they would be looked after, 59% wished for greater reassurance and hope, and 59% expressed an increased need to talk about their worries and fears.[14] In several studies, information-seeking has been found to have beneficial effects on increased compliance, increased patient satisfaction, improved quality of life, and reduced distress.[14,16,17]

Although many patients have high information needs, some patients want less information about their cancer. Research increasingly supports clinical experience in clarifying that patients differ in the amount of information they want and need about their cancer care.[18] In addition, patients' information needs may change at different points on the disease and treatment trajectory, with patients who have advanced disease desiring less information about their illness.[14] It is often difficult for providers to accurately estimate or provide the amount or type of information that patients want, leading to patient dissatisfaction with the amount or type of information they receive.[19,20,21,22] Thus, it is important for a clinician to ask how much information a patient wants.

Research has attempted to characterize different information styles in a variety of ways. One of these is monitoring and blunting.[23] Monitors actively seek information, whereas blunters avoid or distract themselves from information. For example, one study [24] found that having a monitoring style was related to a preference for detailed information, participation in medical decision making, and patient question-asking. Thus, patient information style may greatly affect patient communication preferences and patient interactions with health care providers. This area warrants additional study and has implications for how patients adjust to their cancer experience.

Participation Styles in Decision Making


WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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