Do Patients With Mesothelioma Want To “Do Battle” Against the Disease?

When you talk to a patient diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, or any type of cancer, do you find yourself using terms like “fight,” “defeat,” and “battle?” Do you refer to the various cancer treatment protocols as “weapons?” If so, you’re certainly not alone. Medical historians say that using military language in talking about treatment dates back to the mid-17th century. We have all gotten into the habit of using terminology normally associated with war when talking about cancer, but now researchers say that may be doing patients more harm than good.

Mesothelioma doctors use battle metaphors to explain treatment effectively

Talking about mesothelioma as a battle is one of the most common examples of using metaphors to help us communicate, and a 2010 study confirmed that almost two thirds of physicians rely on metaphor to talk to seriously ill patients. It’s been proven to be one of the best ways for doctors to stress what is important and what needs to be done.

Despite the fact that doctors’ use of metaphors is helpful and that patients seem to appreciate them, new studies have found that patients may do better when treatment of their disease is referred to as a “journey” rather than as a “battle.” In fact, the use of military language or referring to their cancer as an enemy leads to more depression, anxiety, and lower quality of life. As it turns out, positive metaphors have a more positive impact and provide greater support.

Studies show that war metaphors are not helpful to cancer patients

Researchers from Queens University in Ontario, Canada and from the University of Southern California conducted experiments in which they asked almost 1,000 cancer patients to read passages that contained metaphors about journeys, about battles, and with o metaphors.  The participants were then surveyed on their attitudes about cancer treatment. The results showed that those who were exposed to war metaphors rated cancer treatment as more of a challenge than those who were not exposed to metaphor or who heard journey metaphors. They also had a darker view of cancer, their future, and their own disease. The researchers believed that this attitudinal impact “could undermine people’s intentions to engage in healthy behaviors,” and put too much pressure on patients to be fighters.

Using battle metaphors when referring to mesothelioma is a hard habit to break, but it may be worthwhile to help those who have been diagnosed with the disease. For information on other ways that you can provide support, contact the Patient Advocates at at 1-800-692-8608.

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer is the head writer of our news blog. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Terri believes that knowledge is power and she is committed to sharing news about the impact of mesothelioma, the latest research and medical breakthroughs, and victims’ stories.

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