Thursday, December 18, 2014

Words of war and cancer

CANCER DIGEST – Dec. 18, 2014 – War and enemy metaphors are the most common metaphors found in news reports about cancer, and they pervade public discussion about the disease. The entire effort to find a cure for cancer, in fact, has been called a “war on cancer” since President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act in 1971.

But are such metaphors actually keeping us from taking the steps that can prevent more than half of all cancers? 

That’s the question a team of researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Southern California asked in a series of studies appearing in the January issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Decades of research tell us that more than half of cancers are preventable with lifestyle choices such as stopping smoking, losing weight and getting regular exercise.

In one study, David Hauser, at U-M and Norbert Schwarz of USC asked participants to list cancer-prevention behaviors they would be willing to undertake. For one group the questions included war metaphors such as, "What things would you do to fight against developing cancer?” For a second group, the questions contained no such metaphors. The group exposed to the war metaphors listed significantly fewer limitation-related prevention behaviors than the second group.

In a second similar study, 313 participants read one of two health information passages about colorectal cancer. One passage contained enemy metaphors such as "This disease involves an enemy uprising of abnormal cellular growth in the large intestine." The second passage contained no enemy metaphors. Participants in the “cancer-as-enemy” group were far less likely to report their intention to engage in prevention behaviors than those in the no-enemy group. 

"Overall, these results suggest that enemy metaphors in cancer information reduce some prevention intentions without increasing others, making their use potentially harmful for public health," the researchers concluded.

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