Note to our followers: Due to a lack of sufficient funding, will cease daily publication of new content at the end of 2018. Publisher Gary Schwitzer and other contributors may post new articles periodically. If you wish to donate, your gift might help keep the site available to the public for a few more years, by defraying costs of web hosting and maintenance. All of our 6,000+ published articles contain lessons to help people improve their critical thinking about health care. Read more about our change in status. And here's how to make a donation.

Podcast: The language of cancer

Michael Joyce is a writer-producer with and tweets as @mlmjoyce

We’ve written before about how the words we use to talk about cancer matter.

We’ve written about criticism of the ‘warrior trap,’ as well as the ‘war and bravery’ language of cancer.  But rather than hearing more from us on this important topic, in this podcast, you’re going to hear  five powerful perspectives on concerns about what has become our cancer vernacular:

Katherine O’Brien (9 years with metastatic breast cancer); Mandy Stahre (diagnosed with cancer at age 31); Ellen Miller-Sonet (former marketing executive for a renowned cancer center, now a cancer advocate); Vinay Prasad (oncologist and evidence-based medicine specialist); and Christine Norton (28 years with Stage I breast cancer and co-founder of the Minnesota Breast Cancer Coalition).

More reading on this topic:

Here’s a must-read from our publisher, Gary Schwitzer:

‘Cancer misinformation in various media irks breast cancer patients in US & UK’

And a few other excellent resources to get you started:

If you’d like to share a story with us about how certain cancer language contributed to harm, write to us at You can read more stories about media messages leading to patient harms by visiting this page.

A full listing of all of our podcasts is HERE.

Comments (3)

We Welcome Comments. But please note: We will delete comments left by anyone who doesn’t leave an actual first and last name and an actual email address.

We will delete comments that include personal attacks, unfounded allegations, unverified facts, product pitches, or profanity. We will also end any thread of repetitive comments. Comments should primarily discuss the quality (or lack thereof) in journalism or other media messages about health and medicine. This is not intended to be a forum for definitive discussions about medicine or science. Nor is it a forum to share your personal story about a disease or treatment -- your comment must relate to media messages about health care. If your comment doesn't adhere to these policies, we won't post it. Questions? Please see more on our comments policy.

Abbie Brown

July 2, 2018 at 8:27 am

I was diagnosed with stage IIIC breast cancer last spring. I never could identify with the battle language of cancer. I have spent years hating my body and it was only months before diagnosis that I finally was able to turn that around. The tumor is a part of me-not some foreign invader, my tumor is my cells going rouge. Instead of thinking of it as a battle I thought of it as parenting with tough love, these cells had to face the consequences for trying to kill me and so they were treated with chemo and surgery and radiation. But instead of warring I was parenting with love. I really appreciate that this pod cast was created as not everyone identifies with survivor language and being told to stay positive isn’t helpful either. Thank you for making both of these points.


Alene Nitzky

July 23, 2018 at 2:47 pm

to say that it would have been enlightening to hear a nurse’s viewpoint, too. We work closely with patients and are constantly witnessing the effects of language on patient beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors around their cancer treatment, as well as how they are supported. Please, in the future, don’t forget the nurse- we play a very important role in cancer care.


Michael Joyce

July 23, 2018 at 4:11 pm

I don’t always have the breadth of opinion I’d ideally like to include in many of the podcasts we produce but, I agree, very often a nurse’s perspective would enhance the story. Thanks for adding your voice to the comment section, and we’ll keep your recommendation in mind.