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Enduring Cancer

Enduring Cancer - Dwaipayan Banerjee
My first single-authored book, Enduring Cancer: Life, Death, and Diagnosis in Delhi (Duke University Press, 2020), tackled the implications of global hierarchies of scientific expertise for the management of cancer in India. In discussions about the rise of cancer in the region, scholars conflate the growth of cancer cells with the recent, rapid growth of the Indian economy. Articles in journals such as Nature claim that cancer is ‘a disease of growth’ linked to increased affluence, while the World Health Organization find that cancer is now no longer a ‘Western’ disease, but has recently entered the developing world on an epidemic scale. This powerful trope runs contrary to expert evidence that the disease has always been as prevalent in the Global South as it has in the Global North.
Enduring Cancer exposes the dangerous implications of these skewed Global North public health tropes about cancer in the Global South. Drawing on ethnographic work with patients, doctors, and social workers, I show that framing cancer as an affliction of the affluent legitimizes the absence of cancer care for India’s rural and urban poor, when in fact, the disease does not respect international, regional, or class boundaries. Further, I explain how the myopic focus on behaviors and lifestyles as cancer’s cause shifts the burden of responding to the disease onto already vulnerable patients. Blaming patients distracts from a long-standing impact of colonial rule in India: the under-development of public health, which has left the majority of the country’s inhabitants with no meaningful access to care. Thus, rather than fault marginalized patients for their behaviors, I describe their inventive strategies to seek treatments and maintain networks of support.
This research elucidates valuable lessons for cancer management on a global scale. Indian physicians often grapple with late-stage diagnoses, compelling them to prioritize pain management over curative measures.
This contrasts with approaches in the Global North, where the relentless pursuit of cures overshadows palliative care's critical importance. My book contends that cancer experts in the Global North could benefit from the creative strategies of Indian physicians who treat cancer pain as a legitimate biomedical condition. The management of cancer pain, sidelined in even the most advanced hospitals in the Global North, requires a level of expertise equal to other facets of treatment. Even as Indian physicians work under conditions of enormous constraint, their attunement to the disease’s afflictions offers critical lessons for the global management of cancer.
Enduring Cancer has been widely reviewed and taught across the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia.
The book was a finalist for the British Association for South Asian Studies book prize. It has been reviewed in fourteen leading scholarly journals across a range of disciplines and languages. My effort to affect healthcare policy is reflected in citations in several high-impact medical journals, including Nature Reviews Cancer, Global Oncology, BMJ Global Health, Journal of Global Health, Current Oncology, and so on. This project has also led to several interviews in leading podcasts, news outlets, and Indian television news. Several of these reviews recognize the global importance of this book. As one reviewer put it in Isis, a leading journal in the history of science, Enduring Cancer is a ‘path-breaking’ and ‘paradigm-shifting’ work that asks, ‘How might we think about a collective politics for cancer in the Global South that moves beyond the fetish of the cure, to think instead about infrastructural failures and possible avenues toward reparations and collective care?’
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