Skip to content

Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Physicians Interacting With Family Caregivers

    Patients and caregivers may present with different needs, making it difficult to decide whose needs take priority.[1] This situation is especially common when it comes to truth-telling, with family members asking the health care team to keep bad news a secret from the cancer patient, or vice versa.

    Communication With Caregivers

    Recommended Related to Cancer

    Get More Information From NCI

    Call 1-800-4-CANCER For more information, U.S. residents may call the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Eastern Time. A trained Cancer Information Specialist is available to answer your questions. Chat online The NCI's LiveHelp® online chat service provides Internet users with the ability to chat online with an Information Specialist. The...

    Read the Get More Information From NCI article > >

    Cultural differences can profoundly affect communication with the patient and family. For example, some Asian Americans believe that talking about death or dying is bad luck.[2] Such differences complicate discussions about prognosis, treatment choices, and even the use of terms such as chemotherapy, radiation, and hospice.[3] Keeping a life-threatening diagnosis a secret from the patient and avoiding discussions of disease progression further add to a caregiver's sense of burden, isolation, and responsibility. A cross-sectional study was conducted in Taiwan to determine the frequency and difficulty of decisions encountered by bereaved caregivers of terminally ill patients who had died in one university hospital.[4] In Asian cultures, it is not uncommon for health care providers to refrain from telling the complete truth to patients, especially in the case of terminal disease, with the responsibility often left to family caregivers. In this study, truth-telling was the most common difficult decision experienced by family caregivers. Health care providers should be aware of such cultural differences from the Western notion of truth-telling to provide culturally competent care to such patients.

    Breaking Bad News

    Delivering bad news to patients and caregivers is an essential skill for oncologists, palliative care physicians, and other members of the health care team. To do this well, the physician should:[5]

    • Become comfortable with end-of-life issues.
    • Understand the range of options available for families.
    • Let caregivers know what can, rather than what cannot, be done for the patient.
    • Share and receive information in a compassionate manner.

    Oncotalk is a teaching program designed to improve communication skills for postgraduate medical trainees.[6] The program covers essential communication skills such as the "Ask-Tell-Ask" principle and the "Tell me more" principle, and communication tasks are linked to the illness trajectory:[7]

    • The first visit.
    • Making anticancer treatment decisions.
    • Offering clinical trials.
    • Completing anticancer therapy.
    • Discontinuing palliative chemotherapy.
      1|2|3

      Today on WebMD

      Colorectal cancer cells
      A common one in both men and women.
      Lung cancer xray
      See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
       
      sauteed cherry tomatoes
      Fight cancer one plate at a time.
      Ovarian cancer illustration
      Do you know the symptoms?
       
      Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
      Blog
      what is your cancer risk
      HEALTH CHECK
       
      colorectal cancer treatment advances
      Video
      breast cancer overview slideshow
      SLIDESHOW
       
      prostate cancer overview
      SLIDESHOW
      lung cancer overview slideshow
      SLIDESHOW
       
      ovarian cancer overview slideshow
      SLIDESHOW
      Actor Michael Douglas
      Article