: Growing numbers of people with intellectual disabilities are diagnosed with a life-limiting illness such as cancer. Little is known about disclosure of diagnosis and prognosis to this group. The study aim was to explore how much people with intellectual disabilities who have cancer understand about their diagnosis and prognosis, and to explore how much they are told about their cancer.
: 13 people with intellectual disabilities and cancer took part in a 3-year ethnographic study. Data collection consisted mostly of participant observation. Participants were visited regularly for a median of 7 months.
: Eleven participants were told that they had cancer, but most were not helped to understand the implications of this diagnosis or their prognosis. Decisions around disclosure, as well as the task of truth-telling, rested mostly with relatives and paid carers. Those with severe/profound intellectual disabilities were most likely to be protected from the truth. Understanding was affected by cognitive ability, life experience and truth-telling. Lack of understanding affected the ability to take decisions about treatment and care.
: Existing models for breaking bad news are inadequate for people with intellectual disabilities. The findings suggest that more open communication is needed, but further studies are needed to establish best practice in this area.
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Published online: February 24, 2010
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