Objectives: To explore the interpretation of words commonly used to describe lumps. Specific words were explored to assess their understandability and implication of threat to the patient.
Methods: A cross-sectional, questionnaire-based study was undertaken. Age, gender, level of education, employment and socio-economic group were determined. The questionnaire explored the following words: malignant, tumour, carcinoma, lymphoma, sarcoma, lipoma, lymph node, nodule, ganglion, benign, cyst and gland. Participants comprised 204 consecutive adult patients attending the ENT out-patient clinic at a Bristol teaching hospital.
Results: Patients found 'malignant' and 'tumour' the most threatening words and were most unsure of the meaning of 'sarcoma' and 'lipoma'. Nineteen per cent (n = 37) thought a 'benign' lump was a cancer. Results did not significantly differ between demographic groups.
Conclusions: A significant misunderstanding of some words commonly used to describe lumps was found. This study provides important guidance on which terms to use and which to avoid in consultations with patients.