Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cancer cells and cancer terminology

Cancer is a disorder of the cells at the DNA level.


1. The disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body.
2. A malignant growth or tumor resulting from such a division of cells. 

(Image from Understanding Cancer Series: Cancer.)

Defining Cancer

Cancer is a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems.

Cancer is not just one disease but many diseases. There are more than 100 different types of cancer. Most cancers are named for the organ or type of cell in which they start - for example, cancer that begins in the colon is called colon cancer; cancer that begins in basal cells of the skin is called basal cell carcinoma.

With Cancer, Let’s Face It: Words Are Inadequate


'...after staggering through prostate cancer and its treatment — surgery, radiation and hormone therapy — the words “fight” and “battle” make me cringe and bristle.'

I agree. We speak of cancer as if it is an enemy. It is not. It is a medical situation, that must be spoken of and dealt with - as we are not victims of a warrior, a vicious fiend or beast. We have cells gone wrong. Cells that grow more quickly than normal and fight with normal cells for blood supply.

Seriously, the language of cancer is something we need to talk about ... The words we use to describe cancer make us feel bad about ourselves .

It isn't a mysterious soldier and why we use battle terminology defeats me. For those who die from cancer are not vanquished, they are not failures. They cannot 'lose a battle from cancer'. They have lived, and died from a disease. There is no assailant. No malice. No intent. For those who 'win' implies that they have some favour with the cancer gods, and are more worthy of having gotten rid of the disease than another.

Mr. Layton said of his prostate cancer, 'Like my dad, I'm a fighter, and I will beat it.'

Those who have had cancer, seem to feel the same way as I do. They do not want to be named victims, nor do they want their family members to be perceived as victims.

Jack Layton didn’t lose a fight: He died of cancer

It’s a common cliché, one many of us use when talking about a disease that is often feared and rarely understood. But to those touched directly by cancer, equating the illness with a war against the enemy, fighting an adversary, or suffering in order to survive can diminish understanding of the challenges and complexities faced by patients and their families. 

By Leah'Seriously, the language of cancer is something we need to talk about'
As you know, I think the language we use around cancer is powerful, and important. I talk about a dance, not a fight. I talk about having had a cancer, singular, not cancer, the big scary thing.

We cannot personify the cancer cell. This gives too much power to a symbol that destroys us with worry. How many of us fear cancer? Many. How many of us visit friends with cancer, and recognize the face of Jack Layton as it has so profoundly changed? Very few. Those of us who are hospice volunteers, and/or work in the field, recognize the gaunt face we see. Many friends steered clear of my parents in their ill-health.

We need to use words that are appropriate: radiation, chemotherapy, prognosis, treatment plans, rather than 'Cancer has struck charismatic...Jack Layton.' It hasn't struck him at all. His body has been found to contain cancerous cells. Nothing and nobody has lifted a hand to hurt him. There is something going wrong with his body chemistry. Whether a person is a famous 'charismatic' person or not, they all deserve some respect. It is not as if some unseen hand has tried to strike this man down.

This author (Stephanie Butland ) also cites references that use cancer as a metaphor.
So something that annoys me a great deal is the use and over-use of something described as being ‘like a cancer’. Debt, according to one well-known author, is ‘spreading like a cancer’. Corruption at FIFA is also like a cancer, apparently, and a footballer I’ve never heard of  - this is not surprising as I’ve only really heard of David Beckham and, of course, Ryan Giggs – has been called ‘a cancer on football‘. Other things spreading like cancer include wind farmsIranian influenceillegal backpacker hostels Starbucks and even deserts.

As Dana Jennings writes:

So, no, cancer isn’t a battle, a fight. It’s simply life — life raised to a higher power.

Jack Layton
 didn't lose a fight: He died of cancer - The Globe and Mail

22 Aug 2011 – Did Jack Layton die from cancer because he didn't fight the disease hard ...noted that Mr. Layton “gave his fight against cancer everything he had." 

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