Should Doctors Give a Cancer Diagnosis over the Phone?

Doctor on the Phone

There seems to be another epidemic on the rise – insensitive doctors.

This year there are an estimated 1.6 million new cases of cancer. Nearly 244,000 cancers will be found in the respiratory system, like the cancers caused by asbestos. But are doctors properly preparing patients to received a cancer diagnosis?

Surprisingly, we hear stories of doctors delivering the life-changing cancer news to patients over the phone. This is absolutely insensitive.

A doctor should consider the needs of the patient. Those are mental and physical needs. Are these needs being met by a phone call?

There is an essential question that comes up when we are thinking about this: “How would I want to be told about my test results?”

We went onto our Mesothelioma Facebook Page to learn how the community felt. We asked, “We want to know what you think, should doctors give a cancer diagnosis over the phone?”

Should Doctors Give Patients a Cancer Diagnosis Over Phone - Chart

5 said: “Yes, I would be fine with that.”

47 said: “No, that’s totally unacceptable – it should be face to face.”

5 said: “Maybe, undecided.”

This is what I felt should be expected. An overwhelming number of people would prefer to be told face to face. Here are some reasons why a face-to-face conversation is better:

  • Patients aren’t alone for the news.
  • Patients are able to ask questions.
  • It avoids awkward pauses over the phone.
  • Patients are not in a distracting environment.
  • Patients can ask about treatment options immediately.

A cancer diagnosis eventually leads to a conversation about a course of treatment. Most of the time doctors have some idea of what treatment options are available. Why not have patients at a hospital where they can continue to the next step?

Strong Patient Advocacy Increases Expectations from Doctors

Families and patients are more empowered now because they have a stronger voice. Everyone is paying more attention to bedside manner and what we expect from our health care providers.

We all have different relationships with our doctor. So when is it okay for our doctors to tell us a diagnosis over the phone? Would you allow a doctor tell you over the phone in these scenarios?

  • You live far away from the cancer center
  • It is a reoccurring cancer
  • You have financial restrictions

One of the biggest issues with finding out about cancer is the uncertainty. The physical presence of a doctor can instill security and comfort.

Some hospitals have policies that outline common practices on revealing information to patients. In any case, doctors should give fair warning on how they plan to tell patients the news.

A cancer diagnosis can be an emotional event, and you cannot be certain how someone will react. It is important that doctors consider every aspect of patient’s health when delivering devastating information.

Who would you want with you when a doctor tells you cancer test results? Tell us on Facebook or Twitter.

He is now onto the next stage of the project.


Ben Leer is an outreach coordinator with The Mesothelioma Center. He works toward increasing education and awareness of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Part of Ben’s job is to reach out and engage with patients, caregivers and family members on our online communities.

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