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Why calling cancer a “battle” puts an unfair burden on patients

doctor holding a stethoscope
Alex Proimos
Flickr - http://bit.ly/1xMszCg
Dr. Riba said phrasing a cancer diagnosis as a "battle" that can be lost creates a feeling for patients that it's a personal failure if they don't "win the war."

In the past few weeks, there have been two high-profile people who lost their lives to cancer. Aretha Franklin died from pancreatic cancer. John McCain died from a brain cancer called glioblastoma.

In news and conversation around Franklin and McCain's deaths, phrases like "fighting cancer," "beating cancer," and "lost his battle with cancer," have been repeated over and over again. They're common, and used almost reflexively, but Dr. Michelle Riba says they're wrong.

Riba is the director of the PsychOncology Program at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. She joined Stateside to tell us about why using "militaristic" language can be detrimental to cancer patients.

"Many people don't really think about this. This has become common in our lexicon, and we read about it, yet it is very negative for a lot of people to really think about this as a fight. We are trying to use different language these days, but still sometimes we don't even think about how often these kinds of terms are used in reading and watching TV," Riba said. 

Listen above to hear what kind of impact this language can have on patients, and what words Riba would recommend using instead when discussing cancer.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post referred to the Rogel Cancer Center by its previous name the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. The story has been corrected above.

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