Tag Archives: Medical Metaphors

Cancer is not a battle … or is it?

…. at least, not for me.

Using military metaphors when writing or talking about tackling illnesses goes back at least to the 17thc, if not earlier. A study in 2010 found that patients thought physicians were better communicators when they used metaphors when talking about cancer. Only 22% if the randomly selected conversations used military metaphors – surprisingly (for me at least), most metaphors where agricultural. Dhruv Khullar writes that using military metaphors is highly personal and knowing the patient well helps to determine what to say. Carlos D. Tajer wrote an interesting editorial about metaphors in medicine and delving further, the use of metaphors in communication is more complex than I first thought. They have long lasting effects too, as in his example of Ostler and angina (1910) which has imprinted in cultural memory as – it is men who have heart disease (nevermind that females do equally, or more). Metaphors can lead to damage too, as Trish Greenhalgh in a 2010 BMJ editorial writes.

The people treating me didn’t use military metaphors – in fact, they mostly didn’t use any (the only one I got was radiotherapy = sunburn). Perhaps because I’ve had medical issues before or perhaps because I work in a hospital – who can say?

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