Cochrane Summaries

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Ways of communicating to a woman that she has breast cancer

Lockhart K, Dosser I, Cruickshank S, Kennedy C
Published Online: 
16 July 2008

For women to wait for and receive a first diagnosis of breast cancer (primary diagnosis) is an extremely stressful experience. Studies conducted to date suggest that what a woman is told at this time has the potential to influence her sense of well being, the way she copes with the news, how much she remembers of what was discussed (her recall) and her overall level of satisfaction with the encounter.
The diagnosis of confirmed breast cancer can be delivered in a variety of ways, including face-to-face consultation, telephone consultation, written or audiovisual materials. This information can be given by a range of health professionals, such as general practitioners or specialists.

The present systematic review set out to assess the effectiveness of various methods of communicating a first diagnosis of confirmed breast cancer. The review was particularly interested in how this would impact on what the patient remembered, the satisfaction with the information received, the coping strategies used as a result of the information given and the impact of receiving the information on the patient's quality of life. The review authors made a thorough search of the medical literature looking for controlled trials in which women receiving a first diagnosis of breast cancer were randomised to the intervention group. They retrieved 23 original reports of trials for further review but ultimately no trial could be included. A number of the trials focused on communication at the first treatment consultation rather than the method of delivering the diagnosis. In an area that is ethically sensitive, the authors suggest that a review which focuses on the various methods of communication at the first consultation visit may provide useful information as to which methods are more effective and beneficial for this patient group.