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Studying how people in Sweden speak about cancer

Posted September 10, 2015

Lancaster researchers are helping a team in Sweden investigate how people talk about cancer in terms of verbal imagery.

The study, which is led by Linnaeus University in Sweden, was inspired by, and will be modelled on, the ESRC-funded project ‘Metaphor in End of Life Care’ at Lancaster University.

The aim of the Swedish project is to understand how cancer is talked about in Sweden – both inside and outside the immediate care context – in order to inform healthcare professionals about how best to communicate with patients and their families.

Professor Elena Semino, of Lancaster University, said: “In health communication it is important to compare findings from different languages and countries. I look forward to working with the Swedish team in the next few years.”

The project at Lancaster University, which was led by Professor Elena Semino from 2012 to 2014, found that the ‘fight’ and ‘battle’ metaphors which are commonly used to describe people’s experiences of cancer – by the media, by charities raising awareness of the disease, and by cancer sufferers themselves – are not helpful for many patients, as they can lead to feelings of guilt and failure in people with a terminal diagnosis.

On the other hand, some patients find these metaphors motivating and empowering. The project team also found evidence of cancer being talked about as a journey, a marathon, a fairground ride, an unwelcome lodger, and many other metaphors.

The main conclusion of the project was that there is no one-size-fits-all in talking about cancer, and that patients should be encouraged and enabled to use the metaphors that are most helpful to them.

Source: Lancaster University

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