Open Access Open Badges Research article

Disclosure of cancer diagnosis and prognosis: a survey of the general public's attitudes toward doctors and family holding discretionary powers

Hiroaki Miyata1*, Hisateru Tachimori2, Miyako Takahashi1, Tami Saito1 and Ichiro Kai1

Author affiliations

1 Department of Social Gerontology, School of Health Sciences and Nursing, Graduate School of Medicine, University of Tokyo, Japan

2 National Institute of Mental Health, National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry, Japan

For all author emails, please log on.

Citation and License

BMC Medical Ethics 2004, 5:7  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-5-7

Published: 1 December 2004



This study aimed to ask a sample of the general population about their preferences regarding doctors holding discretionary powers in relation to disclosing cancer diagnosis and prognosis.


The researchers mailed 443 questionnaires to registered voters in a ward of Tokyo which had a socio-demographic profile similar to greater Tokyo's average and received 246 responses (response rate 55.5%). We describe and analysed respondents' attitudes toward doctors and family members holding discretionary powers in relation to cancer diagnoses disclose.


Amongst respondents who wanted full disclosure about the diagnosis without delay, 117 (69.6 %) respondents agreed to follow the doctor's discretion, whilst 111 (66.1 %) respondents agreed to follow the family member's decision. For respondents who preferred to have the diagnosis and prognosis withheld, 59 (26.5 %) agreed to follow the doctor's decision, and 79 (35.3 %) of respondents agreed with following family member's wishes.


The greater proportion of respondents wants or permits disclosure of cancer diagnosis and prognosis. In patients who reveal negative attitudes toward being given a cancer disclosure directly, alternative options exist such as telling the family ahead of the patient or having a discussion of the cancer diagnosis with the patient together with the family. It is recommended that health professionals become more aware about the need to provide patients with their cancer diagnosis and prognosis in a variety of ways.