Words matter. And a new commentary published in the Journal of Pain Research says words matter – a lot.
In the commentary titled, “Terminology of chronic pain: the need to “level the playing field” lead author Dr. John F. Peppin says, “Terminology matters, yet little attention has been paid to the terms we use to categorize and diagnose our chronic pain patients.”
“Clinicians and society as a whole need to appreciate language’s potential to further stigmatize and marginalize all patients suffering from chronic pain, and accordingly we are obligated to work toward a more language-neutral system of pain classification,” the publisher of the commentary, Dove Medical Press, stated in a press release.
“’Chronic cancer pain’ and ‘chronic non-cancer pain’ are replete in the literature; however, the distinction here is actually obscure. A patient with pain from a cancer etiology has no different physiology than a patient with pain of non-cancer etiologies. These terms are primarily philosophically based, rather than medical and physiologic. Pain mechanisms do not discriminate between cancer and non-cancer in pathophysiology. Therefore, we suggest that the terminology be changed to help us to better understand and treat all of our chronic pain patients who are suffering,” Dr. Peppin added.
“Perhaps a more prudent, less emotionally and philosophically charged set of terms would indicate the origin and generator of the pain, e.g., a patient with chest wall pain from radiation due to breast cancer would be labelled, ‘Chronic pain of breast cancer radiation treatment origin,’” he said.
The published commentary concluded with the following:
“The goal here is to continue to be patient-focused, relieve their suffering (instead of contributing to it), and help improve their lives. Language, in and by itself, is obviously not a “cure” for pain. However, clinicians and society as a whole need to appreciate language’s potential to further stigmatize and marginalize all patients suffering from chronic pain, and accordingly we are obliged to work toward a more language-neutral system of pain classification.”