People were three times more likely to want unnecessary surgery when a condition was labelled as “cancer,” according to new research from Women’s College Hospital.

The study, which was published in JAMA Oncology, surveyed 1,000 adults who were asked to make personal decisions based on hypothetical scenarios of low-risk thyroid cancers.

When choosing between identical diseases, patients would choose a more dire prognosis, or course of treatment, if the disease was called “cancer.”

This was even the case when people were told theoretical surgery could result in a temporary or permanent hoarse voice or had a higher risk of the cancer coming back.

“It was clear from our findings that preexisting perceptions about cancer … amplify patients’ responses to diagnosis and play a significant role in treatment preferences,” senior study author Dr. David Urbach said in a press release.

Study authors said this trend likely contributes to overtreatment of low-risk, malignant tumours within the healthcare system.

Urbach added it was important to train healthcare professionals on improving their communication with their patients, so they’re properly informed on assessing risk, as well as the pros and cons to different treatments.

The study was spurred by the recent wave of innovations in screening and diagnostic testing for cancers. Doctors can now detect some cancers which – even if left untreated – can pose a very low-risk of growth or eventual death.

“Our ability to identify which cases [of cancer] are very low-risk is improving, but some patients still prefer aggressive treatment,” Dr. Peter Dixon, the study’s lead author, said in a press release.

Dixon said his team chose thyroid cancer as a hypothetical case because in some instances, the condition “might never cause a patient any problems if left untreated and simply monitored.”