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Support Care Cancer. 2000 Nov;8(6):472-8.

Breaking bad news in the transition from curative to palliative cancer care--patient's view of the doctor giving the information.

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Palliative Research Unit, Linköping University, Norrköping, Sweden.


In the transition from curative to palliative cancer care, communication is of special importance. The aim of this study was to explore how patients with a disseminated cancer disease experienced the information about their incurable state, focusing on the physician. The persons taking part were 30 patients admitted to a hospital-based home care unit in Sweden. Semi-structured interviews were conducted and analysed using a qualitative method. All patients described their doctors as experts, despite different qualities. Six subcategories were identified: (1) the inexperienced messenger, (2) the emotionally burdened, (3) the rough and ready expert (4) the benevolent but tactless expert, (5) the "distanced" doctor and (6), the empathic professional. The relationship was described as very important to the patients' capacity to handle the information and was felt to have been built up during earlier meetings. The relationship was described in four subcategories: personal between well-acquainted individuals, impersonal between unacquainted individuals, personal between unacquainted individuals and impersonal between well-acquainted individuals. Both the character of the physician and his or her ability to create personal relationships influence patients' capacity to cope with this specific situation. Education and guidance are needed both in clinical practice and in medical schools.

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