Social Question

rebbel's avatar

Where you live, do doctors inform their patients that they have (terminal) cancer?

Asked by rebbel (31549points) November 22nd, 2011

Some years ago a friend of mine, in Greece, told me that the father of a friend of her had cancer.
Discussing this tragedy I found out that the father didn’t know himself that he suffered from it.
I was surprised to say the least and told her so, to which she replied that that was not uncommon at all (there).
Recently I read in my newspaper an article with figures about doctors informing their patients about (terminal) cancer.
Apparently there is a difference in these figures depending on which country you see the stats of.
I don’t have the numbers ready and I can’t seem to find them online (without having to pay for them), but it was something like this:
Netherlands: about 85% of the patients are told.
Turkey: about 45%
Italy: about 35%

In your country, is it common that patients are being informed about the fact that they have cancer?
What do you think about the fact that, apparently, some doctors in some countries don’t inform their patients?
Could you think of, or do you know, reasons why this is being done not informing, that is?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

23 Answers

KatawaGrey's avatar

In the United States, it would be absolutely unthinkable for a doctor not to inform his/her patients that they had cancer. In fact, not informing a patient of any deadly disease would be pretty good grounds for a lawsuit and, in some cases, might even be enough to have a doctor’s medical credentials taken away.

I have no good reason for you as to why there are doctors who don’t inform their patients of cancer.

marinelife's avatar

In this country, it depends. the doctor assesses the patient’s attitude and makes a determination about whether they would like to know. Many people don’t want to know.

keobooks's avatar

In the US, I think almost all patients are told. The exception is that there are some cultures that finding out stuff like this is frowned upon for some reason. There are patients that come in with all of their family members and I am not sure how it’s agreed upon, but they are not told about their illness, but the family is.

I really don’t understand how it works. It’s usually a family of first generation immigrants and the parents are usually elderly and don’t speak enough English or a standard foreign language to speak directly to their doctor.

When I say standard foreign language—I’ll give an example. A friend of my grandmother is an Italian WW2 refugee. She doesn’t speak English and she doesn’t speak standard Italian. She speaks some dialect of wherever she comes from. She kind of understands some standard Italian, which is how my grandmother spoke to her. But medical terminology translated into Italian would likely be way over her head. So she basically can only speak to her family. While medical intrepretors MAY be able to translate Italian, most of those rustic European dialects died out after WW2.

Anyway, her son said everyone in the family lies to mama about whatever she has. I thought it was cruel. But it was the family way. Now she has severe dementia, so it doesn’t really matter any more.

YARNLADY's avatar

It is on a case by case basis. If the patient wants to know, then yes, if not then no. Doctors aren’t supposed to share information with family members, but I believe they often do.

EmptyNest's avatar

I can’t even imagine not being told. People need time to prepare—bucket lists, some may have young children to consider. I’ve never heard of that. I’m so sorry!

CaptainHarley's avatar

Yes. I was given five years to live. That was about six years ago. : ))

deni's avatar

@rebbel the case you’re talking about with the lady in Greece….was he so terminal that the doctor could see he was going to die in a couple days or weeks, or really soon? In that case, I can see not telling the patient. But then I don’t get it, because does the doctor tell the family? And just not the patient? Obviously I feel like you would be able to tell because everyone around you would be upset? Or maybe they’d hide it? OMg i have so many questions.

MilkyWay's avatar

Of course! I can’t imagine them not telling the patient. They’d get sued or something.

EmptyNest's avatar

@CaptainHarley, hope everything is ok now!

LuckyGuy's avatar

Yep in the US they tell us everything. We can even enter our data in nomograph and check our odds of survival.
There is no shortage of info available to the patient – if they want to know.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Generally they do but they are wishy washy about it…they’re not very realistic when talking to patients, from my experience

CaptainHarley's avatar


It’s under control, for now, but there currently is no cure. I got the cancer and Type II Diabetes from exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange while I was in Vietnam for two years. I do my best to not allow all that to slow me down, but sometimes the diabetes tries to kick my ass! Heh!

Berserker's avatar

@CaptainHarley It tries. More power to you. :)

I live in Canada, and as far as I know, you’re told if you have anything really serious. I think like, it’s some law or something. I’m not really sure, but from stuff I’ve heard from people, if it’s detected, it’s told to the person.

babybadger's avatar

This is extremely disturbing…I cannot imagine the doctor not telling you absolutely everything he/she knows about whatever is ailing you…My entire perspective on the world’s cultural similarites has been changed.

anartist's avatar

Doctors and patients are individuals. enough said.

augustlan's avatar

In the US, generally yes. The only exceptions I’ve ever heard of were for very elderly patients or very young patients, where the adult children (or parents) are in charge of medical decisions.

Edit: I think in some cultures, people don’t want to know they’re dying. In other cases, it may be thought that knowing will keep one from having a positive attitude, which some consider vital to any chance of recovery.

cazzie's avatar

It depends. Where I live, a friend of ours got sick. She knew it was liver cancer when she first got sick, but then, she told her partner to not tell her any bad news. The doctor told him the news and risks, and he couldn’t tell her or let on how bad it was because she didn’t want to know. She went through several treatments and an operation or two, having most of her liver removed and defied the doctors’ expectations by living a few more years until she died last year. Her condition was so bad, she didn’t qualify for a liver transplant. They got married just a few days before she died, essentially, he married her on her deathbed. They had a daughter together. It was during her pregnancy that the cancer was diagnosed. She carried the baby as long as the doctors would allow. When her baby was born, they took her from the delivery suite to the oncology ward to start treatment. She managed to live for another 5 years, so her daughter will have memories of her mother. We cried for days and days.

CaptainHarley's avatar


I’m sure you did. I would have too. : ((

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir There’s some backlash that happens a lot when they’re really realistic. Like they’ll say “you probably have six months to live”, and the patient and family will take their hurt and frustration out on the doctor and say “who the hell are you to tell me how long I have to live??!?”. So I think it makes doctors really worried about being totally upfront, because they don’t want to stamp on any hope the patient has.

OpryLeigh's avatar

Both my Grandmothers were told that they had/have cancer and I have never known anyone that wasn’t told here in the UK. My friend’s mum developed brain cancer after years of suffering from lung cancer. By the time they had realised that it had spread to the brain she wasn’t able to understand what the doctors were telling her so they spoke to her two daughters and let them decide what to tell their mother. However, she was told of the lung cancer initially.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Aethelflaed Well, denial in patients is something a doctor should be able to mitigate, nonetheless.

Paradox25's avatar

Everyone I knew of, including my dad was told that they only had a few months to live. Actually everybody I knew of that was told that they had cancer whether it was stage 1 or stage 4 have all passed on. It seems to me (at least from my own experience) that almost any type or stage of cancer is a terminal illness. As they say the cancer comes back with a vengence.

CaptainHarley's avatar


Not quite, but often enough. : ((

Answer this question




to answer.
Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther