Parsing Cancer Metaphors

jrlewis's picture

Senior Seminar in Biology and Society
November 10, 2009
Julia Lewis


The history of cancer in medicine, research, and society is rich with information and stories.  To reduce the topic to a manageable size, I would like to restrict our inquiry to the metaphors used to describe cancer.  Cancer metaphors are common methods that scientists and nonscientists alike use to describe the condition.  No metaphor is the perfect characterization of cancer.  Every metaphor foregrounds some aspects of the condition and backgrounds others.  Therefore, I would like to explore the meaning conveyed by various metaphors.  My hope is that a better understanding of the metaphors will lead to a more subtle appreciation of cancer.

Please read full text of the following article:;searchHistoryKey=%24{searchHistoryKey}&cookieSet=1

More information on the biology of the PAX genes:



Paul Grobstein's picture

cancer: warfare alternatives

Old ideas spur new approaches in cancer fight (NYTimes 28 Dec 2009)

"could open up a whole new way of thinking about cancer that would be much less assaultive.”

jrieders's picture

Lisa B.'s picture

Breast Cancer Awareness


“The politics behind the pink ribbon” ( said that there is worry that the breast cancer movement is hogging the spotlight at the expense of other causes. Some critics label funding for breast cancer as “pink washing,” since there is not likely to be a cure despite billions of dollars spent on research. Instead, Barbara Brenner, a breast cancer survivor, advocates for more attention to breast cancer prevention and closing the gap in treatment between social and racial groups. The article concludes with a quote from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the largest breast cancer charity, “It is a group effort to try and get the message out about breast health and breast cancer and there is no way we could do that without the support of corporate sponsors.” Overall, the article concluded that although other heath issues, such as diarrhea, may not be sexy, they still deserve public attention.




ttruong's picture

 I found the distinction

 I found the distinction between fast-acting and slow-acting cancers extremely interesting and important. This distinction opens a new possible direction in trying to deal with fast-acting cancer cells. Instead of only or always aiming at killing the cancer cells, we somehow tame it to behave more like slow-acting cells. I think that by studying the difference between the two types, we might be interrupt pathways or genes that the fast-acting cancers have that the slow-acting lack. 

I also found it interesting that cancer cells evolve. It seems that in we not only have to kill (pardon the military expression since we haven’t come up with a new one yet) the cancer cells but we might also have to interrupt their recombination of genes during replicating to prevent evolved resistance. 

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