Hearing the words “You have cancer” is difficult enough to grasp. Hearing those words in a language you do not understand or can barely comprehend is even more difficult. Oncology clinicians strive to find the right way to communicate with a patient about a cancer diagnosis, and the task is equally trying for clinicians when the patient is from a different culture or speaks a different language.

Native culture should be kept in mind when communicating with Hispanic patients. For example, family is a very significant part of the Latino culture. Extended family members are commonly involved in the patient’s medical care, and ensuring they feel involved and included is vital. Your care discussions should address the patient as well as any family members who may be with them.

Palos suggests that seeking out the head of the family may ultimately help the patient with medical decision making.1 This person is usually an elder or someone whose opinion is highly respected and valued.

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Religion plays an important role; therefore, the clinician may consider suggesting that the patient visit or re-visit his or her faith. “Spirituality and religious coping are salient factors in maintaining health and longevity, in well-being during chronic and terminal illnesses, in recovery from traumatic stress, and in positive coping during bereavement,” stated Brady and colleagues.2 Identifying the role religion or faith plays in a patient’s life may be essential to their medical decision making.

Practical ways to ensure communication with the patient is optimal include making sure all documentation and instructions are provided in the patient’s primary language.

Use of an interpreter instead of a family member is helpful as medical jargon can be lost in translation. A family member may have difficulty processing the medical information given to them while also processing their own emotions about the information being provided.

The patient and family should have contact information for a bilingual person who can further assist them should they have a question, concern, or emergency.

A cancer diagnosis can raise many questions and concerns, particularly regarding culturally shared myths and misinformation associated with cancer. The following myths can influence medical decision making for a patient.

  • Cancer can spread if a biopsy or surgery is performed.
  • Pain is part of treatment and cannot be relieved.
  • Taking medication for pain will prolong treatment and make the cancer spread.
  • Cancer is contagious.
  • Your attitude and beliefs can help you beat cancer.

Understanding these myths and being able to openly discuss them with the patient can go a long way toward providing security and comfort, as well as building a trusting nurse-patient relationship.