Australian Women's Explanations of Gynecological Cancers

“Like roulette”: Australian women's explanations of gynecological cancers

Lenore Mandersona, , , Milica Markovica and Michael Quinnb

aFaculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, Key Centre for Women's Health in Society, Department of Public Health, The University of Melbourne, 1/305 Cardigan Street, Carlton, Victoria 3053, Australia bDepartment of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Oncology Unit, Clinical School, Royal Women's Hospital and The University of Melbourne, Australia


Drawing on data from interviews and other ethnographic research, we examine how Australian women from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds make sense of having gynecological cancer.

Alternative explanatory models often co-exist in a single narrative, but there is significant consistency in the etiology of cancer among Australian-born and immigrant women.

In acknowledging the unpredictability of cancer and the prognosis of particular disease, women contextualize their own experience as a matter of luck, outside their control or influence.

Most often women relate their own occurrence of cancer to their social setting and relational factors rather than personal behavior, but at the same time, they acknowledge the interaction of external forces and individual factors, particularly in the case of diet and stress.

Women can control diet to some extent, although many note the irony of having developed cancer even when they have eaten well. Stress, on the other hand, is largely considered as external to and beyond women's control.

Women speak of stress as a characteristic of contemporary social life, as well as their own public and domestic, physical and emotional lives; for these women stress in any of these areas can create physical vulnerability that may result in cancer.

Since women associate cancer with loss of control, the idea of cancerous cells out-of-control within their bodies operates as a metonym of women's views of themselves interpersonally and socially.

Social Science & Medicine Volume 61, Issue 2 , July 2005, Pages 323-332 doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.11.052

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