Cancer by Another Name: The Quest for a Better Linguistic Taxonomy



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Drawing on the disciplines of psycholinguistics, medicine, and medical anthropology, this thesis evaluates the suggestion to rename breast Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) to remove the reference to cancer. Chapter 1 focuses on the evolution of medical and social understanding of cancer and how the language used to describe and treat the disease reflected that understanding. Chapter 2 describes the war metaphor applied to cancer and stigma it causes. Chapter 3 explains Dr. Laura Esserman’s proposal to rename DCIS to Indolent Lesion of Epithelial Origin (IDLE). Chapter 4 discusses the recent precision medicine movement and a change in the taxonomical categorization of cancer within that framework. I argue that the language used to describe cancer has diverged from the science and should once more be realigned to benefit both patients and doctors. A new taxonomy should be informed by science, metaphors, and lived experience from patients and doctors. Finally, I conclude that such taxonomy should be developed within the near future, as we know enough scientifically about the disease to reclassify many of its heterogeneous types.



Cancer, Linguistics, Medical Anthropology, War Metaphor