Cancer patients and their families enter a world that can be overwhelming. For starters, the mere word cancer evokes fear and anxiety, and often in the older population, a sense of hopelessness. The cancer topic for study or discussion is frequently avoided in the lay population (especially in the elderly), and ignorance concerning control and/or cure results. Truth be known, today we actually do cure a lot of people – over 60%; and in early stage cancers, the cure rates can be dramatically better. In years past, paternalistic physicians compounded patient ignorance with secrecy in this and other diseases. This shielding was a practice based on the attitude that patients were best left in the dark – protected from hard facts. This is somewhat understandable, given the meager state of knowledge; there frequently wasn’t much to offer – hence, the blind optimism. Thankfully, times have changed, and not only are contemporary doctors armed and ready, but the educated patient is the norm, rather than the exception. In today’s world of information technology, there is little proprietary information, and furthermore, doctors in general, and oncologist especially, prefer to deal with a realistic and educated patient. Essentially, patient information, self–advocacy, and substantive discussion between doctors and patients have become the ideal, and when not present, the relationship should be questioned. As the younger generation advances in this environment of full disclosure and patient awareness, secretiveness will become a thing of the past. I touched on this concept in my August blog.
For patients to take advantage of information, however, they must wade through a vocabulary that has historically mystified lay people. That’s not to say that this “medical language” is inappropriate, merely that it shouldn’t be proprietary, and unfortunately, some doctors not being good communicators, have a tendency to talk in the language of the profession. Since some doctors have always done this and undoubtedly some always will, the patient should be prepared. In this blog, my goal is to simplify some of the lingo, and making it more understandable for the readership. As future blogs are written, I will discuss a variety of these issues as I delve into the whole subject of patient comprehension, and communication capabilities of physicians (or lack of)- more on this later. For now, the following is a glossary of terms (in no particular order) that swirl through the cancer lexicon; there are many, many more, but this will get you started:
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