Language and Cancer
I have long been fascinated and disturbed by some of the language of oncology. Every single medical note in an in-patient chart begins "This 50 year old unfortunate woman..." We are urged to participate in the "war on cancer". Suggested images for meditation sometimes include violent destruction of cancer cells, and people who have died are described as "having courageously fought a long battle with cancer." Even worse, to me, are the terms routinely used by medical personnel, such as: "She failed treatment."
A recent article publised in The Oncologist takes up this theme. Doctors Susan Bates and Edward Benz have written about "Troublesome Words, Linguistic Precision, and Medical Oncology." Here is a quote:
"If we avoid the phrase patients fail therapy, do we do so because of its connotation of responsibility or because it is linguistically incorrect? The corollary to a patient failing therapy is a patient responding to therapy. While the responded phrasing lacks the connotation of fault, it still wrongly places the outcome. The tumor responded to therapy. To state that 50 patients experienced a complete remission, or that complete responses were noted in 50 patients, is awkward but also more correct than stating that 50 patients responded to treatment. To be precise, complete or partial responses were noted in tumors in 50 patients. Perhaps, for a vaccine or immunotherapy, the phrases could be considered apposite, wherein the patient's immune response is being considered. Even that, however, might be written as "immune responses were noted in 50 patients."
While we likely can't change the linguistic culture, we can listen for these phrases and, when possible, make a gentle correction or offer another way to speak. If you are interested in reading more, here is the link to Doctors Bates' and Benz's commentary: http://theoncologist.alphamedpress.org/cgi/content/full/14/4/445
TO LEAVE A COMMENT, CLICK ON THE NUMBER NEXT TO THE WORD "COMMENTS"