Cancer patients' interpretations of verbal expressions when given information about ending cancer treatment

Friedrichsen, Maria J; Strang, Peter M; Carlsson, Maria E
July 2002
Palliative Medicine;Jul2002, Vol. 16 Issue 4, p323
Academic Journal
Background: Cancer patients' interpretations of the meaning of words used when given bad news are not well studied in medical settings. The aim of this study was to ascertain what significance verbal expressions had for cancer patients when they were given information about ending active tumour treatment, and what message they felt they received. Methods: Tape-recorded semi-structured interviews were performed and analysed using a qualitative phenomenographical approach. Results: Thirty patients with incurable cancer admitted to hospital-based home care unit in Sweden participated. Three main categories about the significance of words emerged: 1) words could indicate indirect warnings as being forewarnings, evasive or ambiguous; 2) words could also be perceived as emotionally trying, as threats or abandoning; 3) other words were fortifying and strengthened the patient in this situation. The overall message given during the information could be interpreted differently: either focused on treatment, on quality of life, or on threat and death. Conclusion: The understanding of the significance of words to tailor the information to patients helps the physician to use forewarnings and fortifying words and to identify and avoid the use of threatening words.


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