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Disclosure of cancer diagnosis and quality of life in cancer patients: should it be the same everywhere?

Ali Montazeri1*, Azadeh Tavoli23, Mohammad Ali Mohagheghi3, Rasool Roshan2 and Zahra Tavoli2

Author Affiliations

1 Iranian Institute for Health Sciences Research, ACECR, Tehran, Iran

2 Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanity Studies, Shahed University, Tehran, Iran

3 Cancer Research Centre, Cancer Institute, Tehran, Iran

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BMC Cancer 2009, 9:39  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-9-39

Published: 29 January 2009



Evidence suggests that truth telling and honest disclosure of cancer diagnosis could lead to improved outcomes in cancer patients. To examine such findings in Iran, this trial aimed to study the various dimensions of quality of life in patients with gastrointestinal cancer and to compare these variables among those who knew their diagnosis and those who did not.


A consecutive sample of patients with gastrointestinal cancer being treated in Cancer Institute in Tehran, Iran was prospectively evaluated. A psychologist interviewed patients using the Iranian version of the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Quality of Life Questionnaire (EORTC QLQ-C30). Patients were categorized into two groups: those who knew their diagnosis and those who did not. Independent sample t-test was used for group comparisons.


In all 142 patients were interviewed. A significant proportion (52%) of patients did not know their cancer diagnosis and 48% of patients were aware that they had cancer. They were quite similar in most characteristics. The comparison of quality of life between two groups indicated that those knew their diagnosis showed a significant lower degree of physical (P = 0.001), emotional (P = 0.01) and social functioning (P < 0.001), whereas the global quality of life and other functional scales including role functioning and cognitive functioning did not show significant result. There were no statistically significant differences between symptoms scores between two groups, except for fatigue suggesting a higher score in patients who knew their diagnosis (P = 0.01). The financial difficulties were also significantly higher in patients who knew their cancer diagnosis (P = 0.005). Performing analysis of variance while controlling for age, educational status, cancer site, and knowledge of cancer diagnosis, the results showed that the knowledge of cancer diagnosis independently still contributed to the significant differences observed between two groups.


Contrary to expectation the findings indicated that patients who did not know their cancer diagnosis had a better physical, social and emotional quality of life. It seems that due to cultural differences between countries cancer disclosure guidelines perhaps should be differing.