MALIGNANT by S. Lochlann Jain


How Cancer Becomes Us
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A dark journey into cancer as it is understood, diagnosed and treated in America today.

Jain (Anthropology/Stanford Univ.; Injury: The Politics of Product Design and Safety Law in the United States, 2006, etc.) aims to balance the objectivity of the field anthropologist with the perspective of being a cancer patient herself. The author does a fine job critiquing a controversial article damning early screening, but she also finds fault with cancer statistics, including five-year survival rates (since they emphasize survival against the odds and one’s personal agency in the “battle”). Elsewhere, Jain’s voice is angry and embittered, amplified in her case by three years’ of misdiagnoses; by the time she was correctly diagnosed, her breast cancer was in its late stages. Her personal involvement prompted research into cancer history, attendance at oncology conferences, and participation in survivor groups and retreats. She has also explored the cancer industrial complex, noting that companies developing treatments might also market pesticides or dump toxic wastes. She is angry that, for all the billions poured into research, we still don’t understand what cancer is and where it comes from. She faults the National Cancer Institute for looking more at the genetics of cancer rather than environmental causes. Ditto the Food and Drug Administration for their failure to test myriad new or already marketed chemicals for cancer risks. In that regard, Jain wonders whether the intense hormonal treatment given to generate multiple eggs for in vitro fertilization (that she went through for a friend) might have contributed to her cancer. Finally, she observes that with all the publicity and promotion of runs “for the cure,” cancer still stigmatizes and blames the victim—or else mitigates the aftermath of treatment with cheery brochures of smiling bewigged women with new breast prostheses.

Not a pretty story, but a heartfelt communication to patients and families that merits study by government agencies, policymakers and health professionals.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-520-27657-4
Page count: 309pp
Publisher: Univ. of California
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2013


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