Health: Vital Signs - A delicate balance

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Doctors cannot get it right. Either they are accused of patronising patients by witholding information or they are accused of avoiding responsibility by overloading them with it.

An illustration of the problem comes from researchers in Hull who interviewed patients with terminal cancer about how satisfied they felt with the information they had received about their illness.

One quarter of the patients were frustrated that the doctor avoided the word "cancer", but an almost equal number (18 per cent) wanted "less frightening words used such as tumour".

Justin Gore, one of the researchers, who presented the findings to the winter meeting of the British Thoracic Society said: "Even where honesty is the policy and experienced doctors are at hand, it is very hard to deliver bad news to patient sand meet individual needs."