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Many Docs Deliver Cancer Diagnosis Badly: Study
Date:7/7/2010

By Ellin Holohan
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, July 7 (HealthDay News) -- One patient found out he had cancer by reading his radiology report.

Another got the news when her neurologist called to say he had arranged for her to see a neurosurgeon. When she asked why, the doctor told her she had a brain tumor and hung up.

A third learned she had breast cancer listening to her answering machine with her grandson sitting on her lap.

A new study about how people learn of cancer diagnoses finds that many doctors have poor communication skills and often leave patients stranded with devastating information about a deadly illness, sometimes in a public setting.

One-third of the cancer patients in the U.S. National Cancer Institute study recalled being told on the phone, in an emergency room, radiology department or other public hospital setting that they had cancer, most often leukemia, lymphoma or brain tumors.

"It's really dismaying to think that many patients are told they have cancer in an impersonal way. As physicians, not all of us, but too many, don't have that degree of compassion," said Dr. J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.

"It's not acceptable," he added.

The study, published online July 6 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, asked patients where they learned of their diagnosis, how long their doctor talked to them, whether treatment options were discussed and how satisfied they were with the experience.

Only 54 percent said they found out they had cancer in person in a doctor's office. Eighteen percent learned over the phone, while the remaining 28 percent were told in various hospital locations, often with little privacy. Nearly half reported discussions of 10 minutes or less, while one-third said treatment options were not reviewed. Thirty-nine percent said they had no one with them when given the diagnosis. A total of
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