The Semantics of Cancer

We are a group of medical professionals, linguists, and philosophers. Our goal is to investigate, model, and test the semantic power of the word ‘cancer’ in diagnosis delivery and treatment decisions. We hope that a better understanding of these issues can help minimize physician/patient miscommunication, reduce overtreatment, and improve patient experiences.

The Semantics of Cancer

our subprojects

Quantitative surveys

We are conducting quantitative surveys about the meaning of the term 'cancer' on several key subpopulations: oncologists; surgeons; pathologists; and lay people. Our goal is to determine any easily detectable differences in these populations about the meaning of the term 'cancer'.

Qualitative interviews

We are conducting interviews about the meaning of the term 'cancer' as it's understood by laypeople and by a variety of medical professionals. Our goal is to determine more subtle semantic differences across these populations, and to develop and test hypotheses about where semantic variation occurs.

Communication analysis

We will be monitoring diagnosis deliveries for certain low-risk cancers like PTMC. In the control condition, diagnoses will be delivered as normal; in our test condition, physicians will be encouraged to use the term "abnormal cells" instead of "cancer". We will analyze the conversations for linguists.

the principals

Joseph Crompton, MD PhD

Joseph Crompton, MD PhD

principal investigator

Dr. Crompton is a cancer surgeon at UCLA; his research is centered on de-escaling morbid and unnecessary operations for cancer patients.

Jessica Rett, PhD

Jessica Rett, PhD

principal investigator

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Dr. Rett is a linguist at UCLA whose research focuses on the meaning of words and sentences, and how meanings change from context to context.

Rajam Raghunathan, MD PhD

Rajam Raghunathan, MD PhD

principal investigator

Rajam Raghunathan is a general surgeon, current endocrine surgery research fellow at UCLA, and a former assistant professor in philosophy. Her research interests lie at the intersection of epistemiology, language, the philosophy of action, and surgery.