World Cancer Day: What you should never say to sufferers

Macmillan Cancer Support have released a poll revealing the terms and descriptions cancer patients aren’t loving [Photo: Getty]

Brave, fighter, victim…just some of the terms cancer sufferers don’t like to be used when people are describing them or their condition.

When finding out a friend or loved-one has been diagnosed with cancer, it is often difficult to know what to say or how to react.

Today, 4 February, is World Cancer Day, which aims to promote research, prevent cancer and raise awareness of the condition among the global community.

In light of the awareness day, a new survey by Macmillan Cancer Support has revealed that there are certain descriptions that aren’t always appreciated, however well-meaning.

Six out of 10 people with cancer don’t want to be described as a “fighter”, while many object to the suggestion they are “battling” with the disease.

The poll found many felt that battling or fighting words were inappropriate to describe what they were going through, but equally they do not want to be called a “hero”.

The word “brave” didn’t always go down well either because this can put patients under pressure to seem positive.

The UK poll of 2,000 people who have or had cancer found “cancer-stricken” and “victim” were also among the least-liked terms.

The charity said it offered an indication of just how “divisive” certain descriptions of cancer can be.

Saying a person had “lost their battle” or “lost their fight” with cancer when they died, were other unpopular descriptions with almost half (44%) not appreciating the first phrase and 37% not liking the second, according to the survey carried out by YouGov.

Almost half (44%) of people affected by cancer find the phrase “lost their battle” inappropriate while 37% do not like the phrase “lost their fight”

There are certain terms cancer patients object to people using [Photo: Getty]

Instead the survey found that people with cancer prefer the language used to describe them or their condition to be factual.

Articles in the media and posts on social networks were found to be the worst offenders for using language cancer sufferers took offence to according to more than half (52%) of patients surveyed.

But almost a fifth (19%) said their friends and family had done the same and 8% said even health professionals used these words with them.

To illustrate the impact the vocabulary can have on those with cancer and to highlight the fact that there isn’t just one way of responding, the charity have released a video revealing how people with cancer react to often well-meaning phrases.

Commenting on the findings Karen Roberts, chief nursing officer at Macmillan, said: “We know that there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ person with cancer, so it follows that people will prefer different ways of talking about it.

“We hear from people every day who face this problem, that at its worst could even stop people getting the support they need.

“By drawing attention to this we want to encourage more people to talk about the words they prefer to hear, and stop the damage that can be caused to people’s wellbeing and relationships.”

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