A patient’s fear is an important consideration in treating disease, and the word “cancer” causes significant fear. That’s what scientists are realizing and it’s why there is now a push to leave out the mention of cancer in diagnosis of certain precancerous conditions. In this way, scientists are hoping to “reign in over-diagnosis,” because less fearful patients are less likely to seek treatments that prove to be unneeded.
Dr. Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, and Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, Professor of Medicine at Dartmouth, both support this effort to end over-diagnosis. Welch explained, “The basic strategy behind early diagnosis is to encourage the well to get examined — to determine if they are not, in fact, sick. But is looking hard for things to be wrong a good way to promote health? The truth is, the fastest way to get [most any disease] is to be screened for it.”
Changing or eliminating “fear words” puts into practice the understanding of how fear affects the mind and the body. Fear is mental but often expresses itself in unhealthy bodily conditions. According to Lissa Rankin, author of Mind Over Medicine, when a person is fearful, the body is unable to repair itself. Rankin and Dr. Larry Norton, a cancer researcher who offers “a potent drug of [invigorating] and pugnacious hope,” both feel that a way to stem and dissolve fear is to encourage a patient’s spiritual identity. Norton also suggests that to take care of someone’s body and not their soul is not to take care of them fully. Along this same line of thought, 19th-century theologian and health researcher Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “…sickness is belief, a latent fear, made manifest on the body in different forms of fear or disease.” Patients can use a number of different tools to keep fear and its accompanying sickness from taking hold. Many find that prayer, and understanding their connection to the Divine, lead to a sense of peace and security that makes clear their spiritual identity. Patients can also actively exchange unhealthy thoughts, such as anger, resentment, and fear, for healthier thoughts, such as gratitude, compassion, and forgiveness. These spiritual thoughts provide additional mental and physical benefits and never come with unhealthy side effects.
Changing the language used to diagnose various conditions, as well as encouraging a patient’s thinking while treating the body, are positive ways of controlling fear. A nuanced name change is just one step toward the gradual understanding that mind is in control of the body. The results directly affect health.