Published August 27, 2013
Women were more likely to opt for surgery when they were told they had breast cancer compared to when they were told they had a breast lesion or a group of abnormal cells – despite the fact that all these phrases describe the same condition, the Los Angeles Times reported.
For a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers recruited 394 healthy women and asked them to imagine they had been diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, an early type of breast cancer in the milk ducts that often never spreads or spreads very slowly.
The imaginary diagnoses were presented either as “noninvasive breast cancer,” a “breast lesion” or “abnormal cells,” according to the Los Angeles Times. In each scenario, treatment and outcomes were presented the same way.
Yet, when women heard the word ‘cancer’ as a part of their diagnoses, 47 percent said they would want a lumpectomy or mastectomy. Comparatively, when the women were told they had a ‘lesion,’ 34 percent opted for surgery, and when they were diagnosed with ‘abnormal cells,’ 31 percent chose surgery.
Researchers believed that the word ‘cancer’ frightened women into picking the surgical option, even when they normally would prefer less invasive treatments.
This report comes just a few weeks after a panel at the National Cancer Institute urged medical professionals to redefine the word ‘cancer,’ saying, “The word ‘cancer’ often invokes the specter of an inexorably lethal process; however, cancers are heterogeneous and can follow multiple paths, not all of which progress to metastases and death, and include indolent disease that causes no harm during the patient’s lifetime.”