When talking to patients about a rare type of cancer linked to breast implants, plastic surgeons should call it “a condition” and avoid using the words cancer, tumor, disease or malignancy, the president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons advised members during an online seminar on Feb. 3.
This is how doctors spoke to patients 50 and 100 years ago, and in some cultures still do, by not mentioning scary words – especially to women, and not calling a cancer what it is.
Most cancers aren’t lethal* is one message for 2011: the “big C” turns out to be a spectrum of hundreds of diseases, each with distinct subtypes, and patients shouldn’t panic when they hear the word. Some are benign in behavior although technically malignant; others behave live chronic illnesses; some, unfortunately, grow fast and can kill.
Oncologists can have a hard time persuading patients that a slow-growing tumor doesn’t need much treatment. It would help if other doctors don’t shy away from the term – keeping it taboo and, ultimately, promoting fear.
*NCI – cancer incidence and mortality summary data, accessed 2/18/11