Why fighting metaphors can be harmful – how language can affect cancer patients

Elena Semino, PhD of Lancaster University, UK, discusses findings from research on how language can affect patients with cancer. There is a lot of evidence that the language that is used for a condition as sensitive as cancer, reflects people’s attitude, views, fears and experiences. It can also influence how people make sense of their experience. There is evidence that we need to be very conscious of what language we use in different contexts and what the implications of that language might be. For example, fighting metaphors for cancer can be harmful in some contexts; one paper presented at the conference demonstrates that it can discourage certain kinds of preventive behaviors. Prof. Semino also mentions her own research findings, which show that especially when treatment doesn’t work, the idea of losing a battle can be demoralizing for patients. Another finding shows that we need to be conscious that different people react differently to different kinds of language. Ideally, people need to be encouraged to use the type of language that works best for them. Recorded at the 2016 National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Conference in Liverpool, UK.

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