How Much Do Cancer Patients Want to Know?

Oncologists seek elusive balance between honesty and hope

By Mikkael Sekeres, MD, MS, and Timothy Gilligan, MD

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We’re meeting you for the first time, soon after your primary care doctor or surgeon has sat down with you, or called, to tell you some terrible news: You have cancer.

We are the oncologists, and we want to help. We want to discuss your diagnosis, what it means and what the options are for treatment. We’d like to give you a clear map of what your life might look like over the next few months as we fight along with you to minimize the amount of this awfulness, even if temporarily, from your body.

But one of the biggest problems we face is that we often can’t figure out what our patients would like to know about their prognosis. Even when we ask.

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Read the full New York Times column by Dr. Sekeres, Director of Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center’s Leukemia Program, and Dr. Gilligan, Taussig Cancer Institute’s Vice-Chair for Education and Director of Coaching at the Center for Excellence in Healthcare Communication.

Photo Credit ©Russell Lee