When is cancer not cancer? It’s an unexpected question that has stirred the world of cancer treatment in recent years, most notably now with prostate cancer. WSJ: A growing number of doctors are advocating what might seem like an unusual position: That low-grade prostate cancers that grow very slowly or not at all shouldn’t be called cancer or carcinoma. The reason, they say, is that those words scare men, their families and sometimes even their doctors into seeking more aggressive treatment than patients need — leaving men with debilitating side effects — rather than pursuing a carefully monitored wait-and-see approach.
A name change wouldn’t be unprecedented. Certain other forms of thyroid, cervical and bladder cancers have been reclassified, sometimes partly to avoid scaring people about cancers that are unlikely to spread. “The word ‘cancer’ engenders so much anxiety and fear,” says Dr. Laura Esserman, a professor of surgery and radiology at the University of California, San Francisco and director of its Breast Care Center, who is advocating for a type of lower-risk breast cancer to be renamed. “Patients think if I don’t do something tomorrow, this is going to kill me. In fact, that’s not true.”