Podcast: The language of cancer

Michael Joyce is a writer-producer with HealthNewsReview.org 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 feedback@healthnewsreview.org. 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)

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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.