We can "stand up to" it, "fight" it, "beat" it, and even "survive" it, but does this macho language help us deal with cancer? No way, say David Hauser and Richard Wassersug: "Not only has the military motif not led to a cure for the disease, but it may actually be detrimental to our health," they write at the Guardian. The problem, they say, is that people who consider cancer "an enemy" are less interested in self-restricting behaviors (like eating less red meat and smoking less) that actually help prevent cancer. When we're at war, "we have no choice but to engage a hostile force that must be attacked in order to be stopped," they write. "Self-limitation is not part of that equation."
Two studies seem to support this, showing that people exposed to "combative" cancer language later said they were less likely to dial down behaviors that can cause the disease. Hauser and Wassersug see other effects, too: Studies show that people "at war" with cancer are more likely to accept "brutal chemotherapy" rather than early palliative care, which can provide better quality of life and sometimes even more life. And if someone "loses" the battle, doesn't that mean they failed? And don't "survivors" feel fraudulent if they keep taking cancer drugs? Until there's proof that this language helps, "it may be time to call back the cavalry, lay down our weapons and end our conceptual war on cancer," write Hauser and Wassersug.