Revealing a cancer diagnosis to patients: attitudes of patients, families, friends, nurses, and physicians in Lebanon-results of a cross-sectional study

F Farhat 1A Othman 2G El Baba 2J Kattan 3

Affiliations

1Department of Hematology-Oncology, Faculty of Medicine, Lebanese University, Lebanon;

2Department of Hematology-Oncology, Hammoud Hospital University Medical Centre, Sidon, Lebanon;

3Department of Medical Oncology, Hôtel-Dieu de France University Hospital, Beirut, Lebanon.

PMID: 26300677

PMCID: PMC4530824

DOI: 10.3747/co.22.2351

Free PMC article

Abstract

Background: Disclosure of a cancer diagnosis to patients is a major problem for physicians in Lebanon. Our survey aimed to identify the attitudes of patients, families and friends, nurses, and physicians regarding disclosure of a cancer diagnosis.

Methods: Study participants included 343 physicians, nurses, cancer patients, families, and friends from clinics in two major hospitals in Lebanon. All completed a 29-item questionnaire that assessed, by demographic group, the information provided about cancer, opinions about the disclosure of the diagnosis to cancer patients, perceived consequences to patients, and the roles of family, friends, and religion.

Results: Overall, 7.8% of the patients were convinced that cancer is incurable. Nearly 82% preferred to be informed about their diagnosis. Similarly, 83% of physicians were in favour of disclosing a cancer diagnosis to their patients. However, only 14% of the physicians said that they revealed the truth to the patients themselves, with only 9% doing so immediately after confirmation of the diagnosis. Disclosure of a cancer diagnosis was preferred before the start of the treatment by 59% of the patients and immediately after confirmation of the diagnosis by 72% of the physicians. Overall, 86% of physicians, 51% of nurses, and 69% of patients and their families believed that religion helped with the acceptance of a cancer diagnosis. A role for family in accepting the diagnosis was reported by 74% of the patients, 56% of the nurses, and 88% of the physicians. All participants considered that fear was the most difficult feeling (63%) experienced by cancer patients, followed by pain (29%), pity (8%), and death (1%), with no statistically significant difference between the answers given by the participant groups.

Conclusions: The social background in Lebanese society is the main obstacle to revealing the truth to cancer patients. Lebanese patients seem to prefer direct communication of the truth, but families take the opposite approach. Physicians also prefer to communicate the reality of the disease at the time of diagnosis, but in actuality, they instead disclose it progressively during treatment. Faith is helpful for acceptance of the diagnosis, and families play a key role in the support of the patients. An open discussion involving all members of society is necessary to attain a better understanding of this issue and to promote timely disclosure of a cancer diagnosis.

Keywords: Communication; diagnosis; families; nurses; patients; physicians; truth disclosure.