Metaphors in palliative cancer care

This project aims to strengthen the scientific foundation for the use of metaphors in Swedish palliative cancer care, thereby contributing to development of praxis in Sweden.

To render the ungraspable graspable

Please click the "CC" button in bottom right corner to activate English subtitle.

In today's Swedish palliative cancer care, there is wide-spread awareness of the importance of good communication for patients as well as for those close to them. This type of communication involves particular challenges because of extensive differences in power and expertise between different groups, on the one hand patients and close ones, and on the other health care professionals.

To render the ungraspable graspable, metaphors are frequently used drawing on their capacity to capture the abstract and unknown in terms of more concrete and familiar experiences. The significance of metaphors is particularly tangible in highly personal or sensitive communicative situations. Metaphors can have a reassuring effect, but can also give rise to feelings like fear, helplessness, isolation and guilt. Death from cancer can be described as for instance "the end of a journey" or as "losing the battle" and thereby completely different worldviews are depicted.

The way we understand metaphor is affected by personal as well as cultural and linguistic factors. Today's increasingly multicultural and multilingual society therefore entails particular challenges for cancer care communication through metaphor, and there is a need for enhanced awareness about which metaphors are universal and therefore more suitable in intercultural communicative events.

This project aims to strengthen the scientific foundation for the use of metaphors in Swedish palliative cancer care, thereby contributing to development of praxis in Sweden.

The research group is composed of six researchers from three different universities, Linnaeus University and Lund University, Sweden, and Lancaster University, UK. The collaborators contribute scientific knowledge from different fields that are relevant for the project: Linguistics and Health and caring sciences. The composition of the research group offers excellent requisites to observe different angles and render the new knowledge accessible for practitioners in Sweden as well as abroad.

The project Metaphors in palliative cancer care is funded by the Kamprad family foundation.

All photographs on this page: Mikael Wallberg.

Scientific methods

The project relies on a methodology that has already been tested within the frames of the related research project Metaphors in end-of-life care (MELC) at Lancaster University. Results and analyses are based on interviews with health care professionals as well as patients and their close ones. Other sources of data are internet-based blogs and discussion fora. The collaboration between the Swedish and British researchers makes it possible to investigate variation in the different languages' and cultures' ways of using metaphor to communicate about experiences of emotional or physical pain.


Dissemination of results

The project has implications for patients, close ones and health care professionals who live with or in the shadow of terminal cancer. Through investigation of metaphor use inside as well as outside the immediate care context, the project is designed to enhance professionals' capability to understand, capture and include patients'/close ones' own use of metaphor, thus optimizing the positive potential of metaphor and avoiding situations where metaphor can have troubling effects. The results are implemented in praxis through continuous dialogue, which is facilitated by the interdisciplinary composition of the research group. The knowledge generated by the project is disseminated through the creation of a work material about the importance of metaphor for good communication created for health care professionals, cancer psychotherapists and educational programmes for health care professionals.