'Never words': 7 phrases clinicians should avoid with cancer patients

The old saying goes, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." But that saying isn't always true, especially when it comes to patient-clinician interactions, according to an Institute for Healthcare Improvement blog post by Len Berry, PhD.

Dr. Berry is an IHI senior fellow and a business professor at Texas A&M University in College Station. He wrote about the power words can play in healing.

"It is not enough for clinicians to perform well with their hands and their minds; they must also perform well with their words and other forms of communication," he wrote.

That's because patients tend to be in tune with "humanic" clues, which come from people's word choices, body language, tone of voice and appearance, according to Dr. Berry.

In the blog post, Dr. Berry compiled some "never words" when caring for cancer patients—phrases clinicians themselves said they would never use with a patient. Here are seven from his post:

  • Let's not concern ourselves about that now
  • Just (as in, "we can continue treatment or just do supportive care)
  • This is a bad cancer
  • What took you so long to come in?
  • You failed chemo
  • You're lucky it's only stage 2
  • Terminal

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