General Question

jrpowell's avatar

How honest are doctors when it comes to the odds of living through a serious surgery?

Asked by jrpowell (40519points) June 27th, 2008

Last night I stopped by my moms house and found a note from the fire department. She was taken to the ER for what was originally thought to be a stroke or heart attack.

But it wasn’t either of those things. She saw a neurologist this morning and they found a massive growth in her brain. Apparently it is lemon sized and has been the source of her terrible migraines for the last ten years. She is scheduled to have it removed in 21 days. They said they will have to remove a portion of her skull to get it out.

She made it sound like the doctor said there is obviously a risk but he doesn’t see any major reasons to be concerned. Do doctors usually say it will be OK if they know it will not?

Maybe my mom is lying so I don’t worry as much. I don’t know.

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10 Answers

Lightlyseared's avatar

in the UK they are usually pretty honest about the risk. I would imagine that the threat of litigation in the US would mean they would be very honest about the risks if only to avoid giving lawyers ammo.

Sorry to hear about your mum, I hope all works out well.

marinelife's avatar

I am sure that shilolo would add value if he sees this question. If you can, you might want to add some topics like medicine.

From what I have read and what doctors have told me, how honest they are depends to some extent on the patient. In really life-and-death issues, they speak with the patient to get a sense of whether the patient wants to know the truth. For some people, a poor prognosis can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Others literally do not want to know.

If you want more data, get the name of the type of tumor and google it. It should have some data on outcomes.

In our family, my Mom is weird about doctors. When she goes to see one, she checks her perfectly adequate brain at the door. Thus, to get real information, we have to go along with her. She lets us do that and also will give a release so the doctor can speak to us directly. That might be an option with your Mom. Ask her to give permission for you to talk to the doctor if you are worried you are not getting the whole story.

Best of luck to you both. I will be thinking of your Mom and hoping for a good outcome.

beast's avatar

As my father is a nerosurgeon, I have a bit of knowledge when I comes to this. Doctors are told and trained to let their patients know exactly what’s up. They have the right to know. Although they do break it to the family a little gentler.

marinelife's avatar

@beast Operates only on Roman emperors?

beast's avatar


Those are his morals. He believes that patients have the right to know. It’s their bodies being operated on.

marinelife's avatar

@beast I was making a comment on your spelling of neurosurgeon.

Since there is a lot of opinion back and forth here, I found this reference in NEJM

“Annas provides a thoughtful analysis of the Arato case (Jan. 20 issue),1 in which physicians were sued for not informing a patient with pancreatic cancer of his prognosis. Since most Japanese doctors still withhold the truth from terminally ill patients, I became interested in how American physicians can be honest with patients. My interviews with American physicians surprised me, because I learned that they are not entirely candid with dying patients2. At least half those I interviewed said they deliver bad news to patients with the worst part (the prognosis) often left out and with an . . .”

beast's avatar

Oh Marina. You and your sarcasm.

gorillapaws's avatar

surgeons are required to obtain an informed consent for any procedure they do. A big part of that is explaining all of the possible complications that can result. Most MD’s I would imagine would be very candid about the reality of complications. Not doing so will almost certainly result in a lawsuit.

gailcalled's avatar

JP: I am really sorry. Some brain tumors are generally encapsulated and benign; their removal can cause peripheral nerve damage to eyelids, and other facial muscles. Sometimes deafness in one ear.

The others are more serious. And lemon-sized is not tiny.

I would think about a second opinion for brain surgery. You want the best. How old is your mother? And in what kind of health. Is there a lot of family support?

shilolo's avatar

JP. This is not straightforward to answer, as Marina has suggested. First, the good news. The tumor most likely is a benign meningioma, given the fact that it has caused symptoms for years and has grown so big. In contrast, Ted Kennedy has a highly malignant brain tumor with a very poor prognosis. So, the surgeon is probably right in that she may have some complications, but most likely will make a (nearly) complete recovery (obviously this depends on the location of the tumor).

As far as honesty goes, most doctors try to give the most honest answer possible. However, it is impossible to know for any individual patient how things will turn out. For brain tumors, I doubt the doctor would paint a pretty picture if it wasn’t so. Feel free to PM me for more info.

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