Language & Bioethics Collaboratory
the LAB collab is a multidisciplinary, inter-institutional research group which examines ethical issues in clinical care, clinical research, and medical training with a focus on language and communication.
Misinterpretation of Surgeons’ Statements
on Cancer Removal—The Adverse Effects of “We Got It All”
How can a commonly used and simple phrase like “we got it all” lead to misunderstanding? Often, clinical mis- understanding arises owing to technical jargon or cross- cultural barriers to understanding. “We got it all” is nei- ther of those, yet it leads to serious miscommunication with clinical consequences. "We got it all,” said with the intention of providing reassurance and hope, can lead to misunderstanding and mistrust in subsequent clinical care and to tension between clinical specialists. If a patient believes that all the cancer has been removed, they may be frustrated and confused when advised to undergo chemotherapy by the medical oncologist. If all the cancer is gone, why would chemotherapy be necessary? We know that some patients with advanced cancer are not receiving the chemotherapy that they need. Miscommunication that comes from a phrase like “we got it all” does not fully explain this phenomenon. However, given its potential for adverse effects, this common phrase should be used with caution.