The Political Use of the Cancer Metaphor: Negative Consequences for the Public and the Cancer Community

Barry R. Meisenberg, Samuel W. Meisenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


There has been an increase in the use of cancer as a political metaphor, most recently to describe the threat of international terrorism. The powerful cancer metaphor implies a particular political problem is serious, progressive and deadly. As such to use a cancer metaphor prepares the public for a set of serious, intense and prolonged actions. While politically useful for a governmental to communicate policy, there are negative consequences to the use of the cancer metaphor. It perpetuates among the public and patients old stereotypes of cancer prognosis and therapies that oncologists have tried to combat through education. These education efforts are designed to help patients avoid overly aggressive treatments, surveillance, monitoring and surgeries. It is hard to successfully educate the general public and patients when they continuously receive alternative messages from political leaders who use the cancer metaphor for a different purpose. Professional cancer educators and clinicians should be aware of this trend and redouble efforts to educate that the political metaphor is for politics only and misleading in the public health and clinical arenas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)398-399
Number of pages2
JournalJournal of Cancer Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015


  • Cancer
  • Consequences
  • Political
  • Public

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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