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How would we view cancer if it wasn’t a war?

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Metaphors that medicine uses about cancer-how it’s a war or a battle, for instance-change the way we see the disease and how we can prevent and treat it, a new study has found.

Because cancer is seen as a fight against an alien invader, people aren’t interested in simple, and less aggressive, approaches such as dietary changes or quitting smoking. Instead, they want to blast it with high-dose chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Different metaphors change the way people view the disease and ways it should be treated, researchers from the University of Michigan found. In a study involving 313 people, the type of treatment they would choose was in large part determined by the metaphors that described the disease.

In fact, fight and battle are among the top 10 verbs to describe cancer, the researchers note.

(Source: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2014; 41(1):66)

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