Powerful New Voices Add to the Chorus Calling for a War on Cancer...Phobia
I'm an Instructor at Harvard, a consultant in risk perception and risk communication, author of How Risky Is it, Really? Why Our Fears Don't Always Match the Facts, and principal co-author of RISK, A Practical Guide for Deciding What's Really Safe and What's Really Dangerous in the World Around You. I run a program called Improving Media Coverage of Risk. I was the Director of Risk Communication at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, part of the Harvard School of Public Health, for 4 years, prior to which I was a TV reporter, specializing in environmental issues, for a local station in Boston for 22 years.
A group of experts advising the U.S. National Institutes of Health has added their voice to a rising chorus calling for a War on Cancer...Phobia. They have suggested that for many cancers, the word cancer itself be removed from the diagnosis, because the fear associated with cancer causes patients to do more harm to themselves to treat their condition than the condition itself warrants. From the New York Times story by Tara Parker Pope
The group, which includes some of the top scientists in cancer research, also suggested that many lesions detected during breast, prostate, thyroid, lung and other cancer screenings should not be called cancer at all but should instead be reclassified as IDLE conditions, which stands for “indolent lesions of epithelial origin.”
There are many who have been saying this for some time, including me, as a messenger for the expert opinions of those who have been calling for precisely what this new group of experts is also calling for... changes in the way the medical community - the name of doing no harm - talks about cancer because of the harm that Cancer Phobia does. In the context of today's news, then, may I humbly ask you to read what was said in this space a year and a half ago. Note in that piece that experts advised the government to take the word cancer out of the diagnosis for some forms of prostate cancer two years ago. Note too that experts at Dartmouth have been clinically quantifying the impacts of what they call Over diagnosis, for years.
From December 2011;
If you were to be diagnosed with cancer, how do you think you would feel? It would depend on the type of cancer of course, but there’s a good chance that no matter the details, the word ‘cancer’ would make the diagnosis much more frightening. Frightening enough, in fact, to do you as much harm, or more, than the disease itself. There is no question that in many cases, we are Cancer Phobic, more afraid of the disease than the medical evidence says we need to be, and that fear alone can be bad for our health. As much as we need to understand cancer itself, we need to recognize and understand this risk, the risk of Cancer Phobia, in order to avoid all of what this awful disease can do to us.
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