Choose your words carefully when using metaphors for cancer

the ONA take:

Metaphors allow people to express ideas that are sensitive and emotional, which make them particularly helpful for people with cancer. However, their impact can be as individual as the emotions they convey. Researchers at the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science based at Lancaster University have been studying how metaphors are used when talking about cancer since 2012.

Their research reveals that patients with cancer find metaphors useful at different levels and at different times during their cancer experience. For example, cancer is often portrayed as a battle to be fought and won, but for the patient with terminal cancer, the analogy can lead to feelings of failure or not being strong enough to win the war.

Another metaphor often used is cancer as a journey. This metaphor was less likely to cause harm; however, it could lead to feelings of frustration. Some patients may see themselves on a road they didn’t choose or have no control over their destination.

The researchers suggest that rather than discouraging patients from using any type of metaphor, patients should be allowed to use the metaphors that suit them best at that time.

Choose your words carefully when using metaphors for cancer
Researchers have been studying how metaphors are used when talking about cancer since 2012.

Media portrayals of cancer as a battle to be fought, and its focus on 'brave fighters' beating the odds, can lead to feelings of guilt and failure in people with a terminal diagnosis, according to research. 'War' metaphors are commonly used to describe people's experiences of cancer - by the media, by charities raising awareness of the disease, and by cancer sufferers themselves.

However this approach is not helpful for many patients, according to Elena Semino, Professor of Linguistics and Verbal Art from the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science based at Lancaster University. "The message that people get from the media and from charity campaigns is that they have to 'fight' and 'beat' their cancer," says Professor Semino. "Although well meaning, the effect of using war metaphors like this can be damaging to some people."

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