Withholding information from cancer patients as a physician's decision under risk

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10 Scopus citations


When cancer is diagnosed, the physician may face a dilemma regarding disclosure of information to the patient. While he or she may feel a responsibility to maintain the patient's hope, even through the withholding of information, there is a risk involved: if treatment fails, the patient will eventually know the truth. Patients who would rather live their final days in peace rather than undergo unpleasant treatment of an uncertain nature may be furious and frustrated that they have been deprived of this liberty, ending their lives feeling worse than they would have had they been told the truth at the outset. The author applies three theories of decision making under uncertainty (expected utility theory, prospect theory, and regret theory) to the physician's problem of whether and to what extent to withhold information from a cancer patient, deriving comparative predictions with regard to the relationships between the physician's behavior and illness, patient, and physician characteristics. The results help explain why physicians whose norm of behavior is full disclosure sometimes opt to withhold information and why junior physicians are more likely to disclose the truth than their senior colleagues, as well as the empirical findings that physicians tend to disclose more truthful information to patients the greater the severity of illness and the more inquisitive the patient.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)216-227
Number of pages12
JournalMedical Decision Making
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Cancer patient
  • Expected-utility theory
  • Information disclosure/withholding
  • Prospect theory
  • Regret theory
  • Risk/uncertainty


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