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Looking Past the Lingo to Understand Your Cancer Diagnosis

February 11, 2020

Many aspects of fighting cancer are out of a patient’s hands, but communication shouldn’t be one of them. In addition to feelings of anxiety, grief, and apprehension, many patients experience information overload. Add medical jargon, statistics, and complex test results into the mix and suddenly coping with a cancer diagnosis becomes overwhelming, resulting in patients who may not feel empowered to communicate openly or make informed decisions about their health.

Words like “antiemetic” (a drug that prevents nausea), “brachytherapy” (an internal radiation treatment), and “metastatic” (cancer that has spread from its original site) may fall trippingly off the tongue of your physician. But if you have ever felt the urge to ask your physician to stop, rewind, and say it again in terms that are easier to comprehend, you’re in good company. Research from the National Institutes of Health suggests an estimated three-fourths of adults are overwhelmed by the influx of complex information they receive upon diagnosis and throughout treatment.

Cancer information overload can occur when patients are unable to effectively process this information, simply because terms and concepts used by clinical teams aren’t always well-known to those outside of the medical field. The result? Important health information gets lost in translation.

Before you get tripped up, consider these tips for looking past the lingo and, ultimately, better understanding your diagnosis and treatment.

Ask questions and talk through anything you don’t understand – patients are encouraged to speak up.”

Take the pressure off

Remember that your care team’s priority is your health. They are working on your behalf to make sure you feel equipped to fight your disease. Ask questions and talk through anything you don’t understand – patients are encouraged to speak up. Open communication will help your physician to know when you’re feeling overwhelmed, what’s causing the confusion, and how to help.

Come prepared

Research is both important and empowering, but your most valuable information resource is your oncology care team. Before office visits or treatment sessions, read the materials and resources your care team gives you. Doing so may spark questions for clarification or help you recognize where you lack understanding of a specific concept related to your disease or treatment. Go to your visits with a prepared list of questions or points for further discussion.

Ask for visuals

Something not quite clicking? If you’ve done your research and asked questions, but you’re still left with uncertainty, it’s possible a more visual explanation might help you to better process the information. Consider asking a care team member to show you a photo, draw a diagram, or demonstrate.

Find an advocate

Managing day-to-day life while going through treatment can make it difficult to dedicate time to delve into the specifics of your illness. Consider sharing the responsibility of researching and asking questions on your behalf with someone you trust. Some patients find it beneficial to partner with someone who has their best interests in mind and understands their goals and needs – such as a family member, friend, or trusted caregiver.

Understanding medical terms and concepts may seem intimidating at times, but don’t let it prevent you from feeling empowered to take control of your care. Ask more questions, communicate honestly and openly when you don’t understand, and remember you’re not alone. Better understanding your diagnosis and treatment results in an overall more positive patient experience – one in which you feel supported every step of the way.


For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org