Effective doctor-patient communication is an integral part of good clinical care. Telling a patient that he/she has cancer can be a daunting task. If done with empathy and sensitivity it can create an important bond between the doctor and patient. If done brusquely and without tact it can create barriers and lasting hostility. Several key steps help make the breaking of bad news easier for doctors and patients. There is not one 'right formula' but appreciation of and responsiveness to the patient's verbal and non-verbal signals are core skills which can be developed.