Patients' understanding of words used to describe lumps: a cross-sectional study

J Laryngol Otol. 2006 Feb;120(2):125-8. doi: 10.1017/S0022215105004688.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Health
  • Cognition
  • Communication
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Terminology as Topic*