What usually happens when patients are told the truth about cancer or other serious disease, compared with those not told the truth?

After looking at many studies, a presidential commission on medical ethics concluded that "contrary to the fears of many that too much information frightens patients," patients are likelier to refuse treatment if they get too little information or there are communication "lapses."

Three such studies were cited in a Los Angeles Times article:

Of 740 patients entering a cancer detection center, 99 percent said they wanted to be told of any cancer. After diagnosis, 89 percent of those who actually had a cancer said they were glad they'd been told; 82 percent of the cancer-free said they'd want to be told if they ever developed it.

A study of 116 survivors of childhood cancer found that the children who had been told about their illness earliest in its course emerged in better psychological condition than those who weren't told for a year or more, or discovered the truth on their own.

Massachusetts General Hospital studied 97 patients scheduled for abdominal surgery to try to learn whether the truth could hinder healing. Half the patients were told in detail what sort of post-operative pain they could expect -- just where, how severe and how long-lasting. They were told such pain was normal and taught how to relax to ease it.

The remaining half got no special information. The result: the informed patients requested only half as many narcotics and pain-killers as the uninformed and left the hospital three days earlier, on average.