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Medline ® Abstract for Reference 44

of 'Communication of prognosis in palliative care'

Cancer disclosure in Japan: historical comparisons, current practices.
Elwyn TS, Fetters MD, Gorenflo W, Tsuda T
Soc Sci Med. 1998 May;46(9):1151-63.
Although Japanese physicians historically have not disclosed cancer diagnoses to patients, pressures upon physicians to disclose have increased in recent years. We questioned physicians practicing at a private medical hospital in rural Japan about their current approach to cancer disclosure. We compared their responses with responses of physicians in a 1991 study conducted in Japan, and two studies conducted in the United States, in 1961 and in 1977. Seventy-seven clinically active physicians with experience treating cancer patients responded (73% response rate). Forty percent of respondents reported usually telling patients of a cancer diagnosis, over three times more than the 13% who reported such a policy in Japan in 1991. Physicians were significantly more likely (P<0.001) to make exceptions than physicians in the previous Japanese study, and physicians in the previous U.S. studies. Respondents reported considering more factors in deciding whether to tell than participants in the 1977 U.S. study. Factors predicting an increased probability of disclosure included age (in a hyperbolic relationship), improved prognosis, breast or cervical cancer, and social status and religion (by a minority of respondents). Increase in a substitute decision maker's age was predictive for physicians not to involve the person in decision-making. Most respondents reported their disclosure policy is based on clinical experience. More respondents indicated a likelihood of changing in the future than respondents in the previous U.S. studies. These data suggest Japanese physicians are moving away from a rigid policy of nondisclosure to a policy of selective disclosure, but they have not adopted universal cancer disclosure as practiced in many Western countries. Since young age and advanced age predicted self-reports of not disclosing cancer diagnoses, these data raise the question of whether nondisclosure by age groups represents age discrimination or compassionate medical care tailored to individual patient needs.
University of Michigan School of Medicine, USA.