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Oncology (Williston Park). 1999 Jul;13(7):1021-31; discussion 1031-6, 1038.

Discussing disease progression and end-of-life decisions.

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Department of Neuro-Oncology, University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, USA.


Because most patients now want to know the truth about their diagnosis and prognosis, the ability to discuss the cancer diagnosis, disease recurrence, or treatment failure, and to solicit patients' views about resuscitation or hospice care, are important verbal skills for oncologists and other oncology health care providers. Moreover, the ability to clearly articulate a treatment plan or elicit patient preferences for treatment are a prerequisite to informed consent. Despite these imperatives, clinicians do not routinely receive training in key communication skills that could enable them to accomplish these tasks. A body of literature is available, however, that identifies communication strategies that can (1) facilitate the establishment of a close rapport with the patient, (2) identify the patient's information preferences, (3) ensure comprehension of key knowledge and information, (4) address the patient's emotions in a supportive fashion, (5) elicit the patient's key concerns, and (6) involve the patient in the treatment plan. In this article, we use dialogues between a physician and a hypothetical patient with advanced ovarian cancer to illustrate how communication techniques can be applied to accomplish these goals. We identify important benefits of the use of these techniques for both the physician and patient, and pose several questions regarding the training of physicians in this area.

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