Why Do They Call it Cancer?

cancerchangeSome of the conditions that doctors label cancer may not be as serious as they sound – and may not even require treatment. That’s the consensus of a panel of experts that is urging the National Cancer Institute to reconsider the definition of the disease as a way to reduce unnecessary treatment.

The proposal would eliminate the words “cancer” or “carcinoma” from the diagnoses of certain lesions and small tumors, including ones affecting the prostate, thyroid and breast.


According to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, patients often overreact out of fear when they get a cancer diagnosis, demanding treatment that may be unnecessary – and potentially risky. The panel said conditions such as Barrett’s esophagus and ductal carcinoma in the area of the breast are premalignant, slow growing lesions that may need close monitoring instead of immediate treatment.

While not everyone agrees with the proposed changes, Otis Brawley, MD, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society says, current definitions of cancer date from the “mid-19th century” before the advent of modern screening and imaging technology. Still, he says, persuading older patients to watch and wait may be a tough sell.

What would really help, Brawley adds, is not just a change in terminology, but “better tests to figure out which conditions need to be watched and which ones need to be treated.”

By Candy Sagan


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