24 July 2003
Doctors using confusing language in cancer consultations
The public are confused by many of the medical terms used by doctors in cancer consultations, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Sussex found terms commonly used by doctors such as 'progressing tumour' and 'remission', as well as those used to describe screening procedures for breast and bowel cancer, were poorly understood by the public.
The study, published in the August issue of Psycho-Oncology, suggests there is an urgent need for doctors to change the way they communicate important information to patients.
"It's crucial that doctors avoid ambiguous language or medical jargon in consultations," says Professor Lesley Fallowfield, from the Cancer Research UK Psychosocial Oncology Group at the University of Sussex.
"Growing evidence suggests the majority of people with cancer want to be fully informed about their illness whether the news is good or bad. A clear understanding of the situation can improve a patient's treatment, recovery and quality of life."
The study found that only six out 10 of those questioned understood that 'metastasis' meant cancer was spreading. Only around half of the participants knew the term 'remission' meant there was no detectable sign of cancer and understood the phrase 'the tumour is progressing' was not good news.
Three out of 10 had poor understanding of the term 'seedlings' - a euphemism for the spread of cancer - and 2 out of 10 were confused by the phrase 'spots in the liver'.
Researchers found many of those who completed the questionnaire thought they understood terms when they were actually quite confused by them.
Prof Fallowfield says: "The study shows a substantial proportion of the public don't understand terms often used in cancer consultations.
"There's an urgent need for doctors to reassess the way they explain the diagnosis and treatment of cancer to patients. We need to ensure that results of this research are made available to everyone involved in teaching communication skills to doctors," she adds.
Notes for editors
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