5 reasons to stop calling low-risk cancers 'cancer'

A name change is needed and one of the most important steps to improving quality of life, says expert

What’s in a name? Plenty, according to a cancer expert who is arguing for a name change for indolent tumours, which have little chance of spreading but cause fear and apprehension in patients.

Dr Laura Esserman, director of the Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center in San Francisco, pushes for the name change in a BMJ article, writing that patients are unnecessarily alarmed by the word 'cancer', which encompasses diseases with widely varying metastatic potential.

Many thyroid, prostate and breast cancers are ultra-low-risk lesions, yet it’s difficult to encourage a patient to watch and wait once they have been told they have cancer, she says.

“Overtreating people who are not at risk of death does not improve the lives of those at highest risk,” she writes.

“The refinement of the nomenclature for cancer is one of the most important steps we can take to improve the outcomes and quality

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