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Accepted Contribution:

Anticipating the absence of cancer: shaping cancer futures through UK detection initiatives  
Anna Dowrick (University of Oxford)

Short abstract:

This paper draws attention to the absence of cancer, exploring how negative diagnoses are figured in planning of cancer pathways and patient stories of ‘all-clear’ results. This contributes to thinking about how the anticipation of ‘not cancer’ is mobilised as part of imaginaries of cancer futures.

Long abstract:

National and international policy focus on cancer control has both prolonged life with cancer and altered the temporality of life at risk of cancer (Manderson, 2015, Andersen 2023). While this can foreground the potential presence of cancer, imagining the absence of cancer plays an equally important role in cancer detection initiatives, in that all-clear or indeterminate results create different responsibilities for health services in offering reassurance and closure.

This paper draws attention to the absence of cancer, drawing on two cases which emphasise different moments in the cancer detection journey. First, exploring the beginning of processes of cancer identification, I examine the mobilisation of professional and institutional resources during current efforts in the UK to improve colorectal cancer diagnosis. In exploring efforts to find more cases of cancer, I pay particular attention to how those who are anticipated not to have cancer are figured in planning. Second, looking at the endpoint of cancer detection pathways, I share insights from patients who have received an ‘all-clear’ after passing through novel pathways for vague symptoms.

Contrasting how the ‘absent presence’ of cancer is manifest in both cases, I further thinking on the flows of anticipation (Clarke, 2015) that shape cancer detection efforts, particularly how this relates to the concept of ‘chronic living’ (Heinsen, Wahlberg, Petersen, 2021). Through this I aim to contribute to STS conversations about how imaginaries of futures with and without cancer are mobilised in everyday life.

Combined Format Open Panel P133
Transforming the study of cancer
  Session 1 Tuesday 16 July, 2024, -