US National Cancer Institute wants to redefine the word cancer

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NEW YORK (PIX11) – It’s the diagnosis that – with a single word – can take your breath away.

Sarah Fellhauer has seen it happen, “I’ve been a registered nurse for 16 years. I’ve been a concerned specialist for 10 years, and I’ve been taking care of concerned patients for most of my adult life.”

Earlier this year Sarah heard the ‘c-word’, cancer, from her own doctor.

“I’m 37 years old. I was diagnosed with breast cancer six month ago. And now I’m a cancer patient, receiving care at the hospital where I work. So it’s a definitely different role reversal for me, and a difficult journey,” said Fellhauer.

Sarah caught her aggressive cancer early – through a screening.

But a new recommendation from the National cancer Institute now suggests that American doctors are not only over-diagnosing, but also over-testing their prospective cancer patients.

Dr. Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, says in some cases it is indeed appropriate to take a let’s-just-monitor-it approach to some non-aggressive cancers.

“In many respects, this article tells scientists what we need to be doing,” said Dr. Brawley.

The Cancer Institute’s work group also suggested limiting the circumstances under which certain cancer terms should be used – based on the reasonable likelihood that cells could turn lethal, instead of their mere existence in the body.

But for Fellhauer, “I also know patients, firsthand, when I — when we — say, let’s just watch it – they get nervous,” said Sarah.

“I have 55 more years go in my life, and I have a lot more to do – I want to treat it now, and not treat it later when it’s a later stage”, said Sarah.

The Cancer Institute’s work group also suggests that scientists are essentially working with cancer definitions that date back to the mid-1850s. And that it’s time to update the referencing materials that doctors use today, to determine if someone has cancer.