Japanese say cancer victims shouldn't be told

TOKYO -- Most Japanese believe it is better to lie to family members diagnosed as having cancer rather than shock them with the truth, according to a survey released Monday that shows Japanese thinking on cancer has changed little in the past eight years.

Lying about cancer is an established custom in Japan, and the results of the poll suggest the practice isnot likely to change soon.


The Japanese view the truth as being too unpleasant and upsetting to the patient.

Eight out of 10 doctors refuse to tell cancer patients the truth, preferring to tell the immediate family and leave it to them to tell the patients.

But only 21 percent of the Japanese say they would pass a cancer diagnosis on to a family member. Most, 64 percent, said they would hide the truth, according to the survey of 3,000 people conducted by the Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan's major newspapers.

The Japanese are split on the question of whether doctors should tell patients directly when the patients have cancer.

According to the poll, 37 percent support lying to patients and 40 percent believe telling the truth is better.

The results of the poll taken last month are nearly identical to a similar poll taken in October 1980.

While they would lie to family members, most Japanese say if they have cancer they want the doctor to tell them the truth.

About 60 percent said they want to know if they have cancer while 34 percent said they would prefer not to know.

Many Japanese believe a cancer diagnosis is tantamount to issuing a death sentence. There is little public awareness that cancer can be treated.

The custom of not telling cancer patients the truth was followed when Emperor Hirohito developed duodenal cancer in 1987.

Hirohito was never told he had cancer before his death Jan. 7, and the Imperial Palace refused to confirm the reports that he had cancer until after his death.

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