Communication skills training in cancer care: where are we and where are we going?

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Purpose of review

This review gives an overview of recent developments in the field of communication skills training programs designed for cancer health care professionals.

Recent findings

The Web of Knowledge was searched for empirical papers published between January 2002 and February 2005. Twenty-two papers were included in the review describing 13 different studies. Four studies were randomised trials using a pretest-posttest comparison design. As regards participant-based outcomes, studies showed improvements in terms of participant satisfaction with course, reported improvements in communication skills, increased knowledge and confidence, and changes in attitudes and beliefs. Results in terms of participants' level of stress and burnout were inconsistent across studies. Improvements were observed as regards the use of taught skills following training. Three studies using an utterance-by-utterance analysis system reported improvements in physicians' use of assessment skills or supportive skills. One study observed improvements in terms of decision-making skills. No change was observed as regards physicians' detection of patient distress. As regards patient-based outcomes, only two of four studies reported improvements in terms of patient satisfaction with and perception of interviews.


Results of this review confirm the usefulness of learner-centred, skills-focused, and practise-oriented communication skills training programs organised in small groups of a maximum 6 participants and lasting at least 20 hours. Such communication skills training programs may therefore be recommended to health care professionals treating cancer patients and their families.

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