The `C' word is given a brighter prognosis

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THE OXFORD English Dictionary is to rewrite its entry for the word "cancer" in its next edition after representations from a cancer charity which said the current definition was too gloomy.

The existing entry defines cancer as "a malignant growth.... which eats away or corrodes the part in which it is situated and generally ends in death". Nick Young, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Relief, wrote to the dictionary's editor to protest about the entry on the grounds that it took no account of recent advances in the treatment and understanding of the disease, which had led to longer survival.

The OED's editor had disclosed that the entry had been written in 1888. "He said it was about time they changed it. It is going to happen in the next edition," Mr Young said.

More than one million people are living with cancer in the UK and the figure was projected to rise to two million by 2020, he said. "Cancer is not necessarily an immediate death sentence. Living with cancer is a reality today."

Mr Young was speaking at the launch of a campaign to alter the language of cancer, which he said presented a uniformly negative image of the disease, increasing fear. A survey of 5,000 articles on cancer published in 18 national newspapers over six months found war imagery was the most frequent used to describe cancer, including words such as "battle", "victim" and "weapon". Cancer was also used as a metaphor for evil and corruption, as in "a cancer at the heart of government".

"We all accept cancer is a serious illness but this bombardment of negative images increases suffering," Mr Young said. A survey by the charity found fewer than half of cancer patients were properly involved in decisions about their treatment and care. The Cancer Guide, published yesterday, which will be available free athospitals, clinics and branches of Boots, lists questions to be asked at each stage of treatment and includes a directory of organisations.

Dr Jane Maher, medical director of the charity, said: "People diagnosed with cancer have no map and no interpreter and are in an alien country."