What is the difference between frank cancer and overt cancer?
Is there any difference when I want to describe a cancer is obvious and can be diagnosed by a doctor?

Original sentences in the article published in Nature Medicine:

  1. It is not known how many of these would eventually have become frank malignant tumors. This finding was first documented in the prostate by Arnold Rich in 1935 (ref. 4) (the recently reprinted paper can be found in ref. 5).

  2. On the basis of these and related findings, it is evident that at least indolent or occult tumors occur much more frequently than is commonly recognized but are restrained from progressing into overt cancer by processes as yet not understood.

  • Do you have any context for these two phrases? Neither of them sounds like good usage of these adjectives when describing cancer. "Frank" means "honest"... I don't think that cancer is generally considered "honest". "Overt" means "obvious"... I also don't think cancer is generally "obvious". Is there a reason you're not just using "diagnosable"? I think you'll be better served by asking what words could be used in the situation you're describing rather than picking words you think may work.
    – Catija
    Oct 9, 2017 at 20:26
  • @Catija The question has been edited making part of your comment not really applicable any longer, but I didn't want to remove it when I cleaned up the redundant comments because it has some information about "frank" and "overt" that I think is helpful.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 9, 2017 at 20:58
  • @ColleenV fee free to remove the inapplicable parts if you like :D
    – Catija
    Oct 9, 2017 at 20:59

1 Answer 1


In pathology, the definition for frank is "unmistakable, clinically evident." So in the first sentence, frank indicates that the tumors are no longer occult tumors, but rather tumors that could be observed through normal diagnostic procedures.

(see http://www.dictionary.com/browse/frank third meaning)

An appropriate definition for overt in this context would be "observable, not secret," seeing as it is being contrasted with occult cancer, which is defined in the abstract of the article as "the tumor...unnoticed by the host."

Given that information, I would say that they are being used as synonyms in an effort to liven up the writing, as much as is possible for a medical journal! Both terms communicate that the tumor is obvious or able to be diagnosed.


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