The cancers that doctors don’t want to call cancers… because the word is ‘too scary’

Dr Laura Esserman, a professor of surgery and radiology at the University of California, San Francisco, said: 'The word "Cancer" cause so much anxiety and fear'

Dr Laura Esserman, a professor of surgery and radiology at the University of California, San Francisco, said: ‘The word “cancer” causes so much anxiety and fear’

An increasing number of doctors are suggesting that some cancers should no longer be called cancer.

Low-grade prostate cancers that grow very slowly should not be called cancer or carcinoma, some doctors said.

This is because it can scare men, their families and even their doctors into more aggressive treatment than patients need, resulting in serious side effects, rather than a monitored ‘wait and see’ approach.

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among men in the US and the second leading cancer killer, but more than a quarter of men diagnosed have the lowest risk grade.

Defense Minister Lloyd Austin was released from hospital this month after prostate cancer surgery. Austin was hospitalized on January 1, but originally kept his treatment a secret from the White House.

King Charles also recently underwent a corrective procedure for an enlarged prostate, which can cause many of the same symptoms as prostate cancer, including pain during urination.

King Charles recently underwent a corrective procedure for an enlarged prostate, which can cause many of the same symptoms as prostate cancer, including pain during urination

Defense Minister Lloyd Austin was released from hospital this month after prostate cancer surgery.  Austin was hospitalized on January 1, but originally kept his treatment a secret from the White House

King Charles (left) recently underwent a corrective procedure for an enlarged prostate, which can cause many of the same symptoms as prostate cancer, including pain during urination. Defense Minister Lloyd Austin (right) was released from hospital this month after prostate cancer surgery. Austin was hospitalized on January 1, but originally kept his treatment a secret from the White House

Researchers found that the death rate was the same among people who initially received treatment (red, blue lines) and for those who were instead monitored by a doctor until they needed it (dotted line)

Researchers found that the death rate was the same among people who initially received treatment (red, blue lines) and for those who were instead monitored by a doctor until they needed it (dotted line)

Changing the name of conditions is not unheard of.

Some thyroid, cervical and bladder cancers have been reclassified, sometimes in part to prevent people from becoming too anxious about cancers that are not likely to spread.

Papillary thyroid cancer was described as a lesion or as abnormal cells, rather than a cancer, which was found to reduce patients’ anxiety in a study.

Dr. Laura Esserman, a professor of surgery and radiology at the University of California, San Francisco, told the Wall Street Journal: ‘The word “cancer” causes so much anxiety and fear.’

She recommends that a type of lower-risk breast cancer be renamed as well.

‘Patients think if I don’t do something tomorrow it’s going to kill me. Actually, that’s not true,” she said.

Screening technology has improved and checks have become more common, meaning more cancer is being found and diagnosed in its early stages.

If watched closely, some may recede and not pose a major health risk, some doctors said.

Dr. Esserman said that screenings “may find a reservoir of disease that is less aggressive and some of it may even go away on its own.”

Prostate cancer is graded into grade groups from one to five, with five being the highest risk.

Grade 1, the lowest-risk cancers, account for about a quarter of men diagnosed with prostate cancer, says Dr. Scott Eggener, a professor of surgery and urologic oncologist at the University of Chicago.

Treatment for prostate cancer can range from active surveillance, when men undergo regular tests, to radiation or surgery.

The most aggressive form of treatment is a prostatectomy – surgery to remove part or all of the prostate gland – which can leave patients with urinary and sexual dysfunction.

Radiation can lead to urinary, erectile and bowel dysfunction.

Doctors tend to recommend active surveillance for low-grade cancers, while moderate and high-grade patients will undergo surgery or radiation.

Research shows that about 60 percent of men with stage one prostate cancer go for active surveillance, Dr. Eggener said. The rest have surgery or radiation.

But some doctors think that low-grade cancers should still be called cancer.

Biopsy samples are sometimes inaccurate, said Dr. Samson Fine, an attending urologic pathologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Biopsies only look at a small number of cells, which means they can be difficult for doctors to classify.

Between 20 and 35 percent of grade 1 group cancers in men who are later operated on end up being higher-grade cancers, Dr. Fine said.

One study, published in the New England Journal of Medicinelooked at data from 1,643 men diagnosed with prostate cancer in the UK.

Each had a relatively mild case with no detectable spread of the cancer.

The population was divided into three groups based on what treatment they received at the start of their fight against the disease.

Among the group, 553 received the surgery and 545 went into radiation treatment. A third group of 545 people received none.

Instead, the last group was regularly monitored by a doctor for the progression of the disease.

If their cancer reached a later stage, or spread to another part of the body, they were offered appropriate treatment.

After 15 years, 17 of the 545 people in the monitoring group had died, or 3.1 percent of them.

This matched the 12 or 553 people in the surgery group who died – 2.1 percent – and the 16 members of the treatment group – 2.9 percent.