Final Project: Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer, as many may know, develops in the tissue of the breast and can eventually lead to bone pain, swollen lymph nodes, shortness of breath, yellow skin, or even death. As a very common and life-threatening illness it should be taken seriously, so understanding the anthropological methods applied in medicine holds great significance to the process of treating this disease. Comprehending this takes plenty of experience and research but can help lead to new findings which may improve the treatment of cancers.

In todays society there seems to be a constant use of technology in peoples busy lives every day. Nobody appears to look into what exactly all of this technology is doing to our body, and many would be surprised to know. Radiation is a big risk factor when it comes to cancer and technology is one of the leading causes, along with UV rays and other harmful forms of radiation. Old age, inactivity, and weight gain are just some of the other risks of developing breast cancer. When handling this disease I would have to observe my patients activity and habits in their daily routine to ensure these factors cause the least amount of contribution to the cancer as possible. Breast cancer is also biologically influenced to be more affective towards women of older age. In simple terms, a living being’s goal is to maintain homeostasis in their environment, and in today’s age civilization and technology may alter this (Lecture 1.1).

Identifying breast cancer can be a difficult and terrifying process. Many people find their breast cancer after experiencing symptoms such as swelling, irritation, or retraction of the breast and/or nipple. However, people with early stages of breast cancer typically have no symptoms. This is why I would recommend all women, especially those more vulnerable, to routinely get a professional mammogram check up before it’s too late to catch the cancer early and previous to the symptoms showing up. The stages of breast cancer range from 0-4 and depending on how strong the disease is determines the type of treatment that is usually done. Almost all kinds of breast cancer require chemotherapy and radiation treatment. These methods for the most part are universally understood to be the best at eliminating the cancer, since there hasn’t been a complete cure found yet. In these days it is also the most trusted procedure to prevent the cancer from returning later on after it has been treated, but many cases have unfortunately made their way back. Under this ethnomedical approach I would also insist breast cancer survivors adjust their lifestyles by scheduling check-ups and avoiding certain products or activities that are known to hold high risk of causing cancer.

If a person who routinely has their physical examinations is diagnosed with breast cancer, most of the time it is the physician who identifies it before the patient. As I mentioned earlier, the symptoms of breast cancer typically come along later on in the development before it can be stopped. Because of this, the sick role is slightly tuned to fit the case of breast cancer, and most other cancers. Along with this, the experiential approach is often tailored to treat specific cases individuals face whereas breast cancer is handled more commonly between people. This would seem to be a difficult method to approach breast cancer with. However, since the experiential approach is so individualized, it could be accompanied with identifying how each patient handles fighting this disease. Many believe that patients with a positive attitude tend to have more success at overcoming their cancer (Lecture 4.1). This relates to the placebo effect and how it is used in the experiential approach. Even though when treating breast cancer there are no placebos used, the fact that a patient is knowingly receiving a legitimate procedure often times gives them assurance and positivity during their recovery.

Outside of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, there are no other major treatments to breast cancer. These procedures are all similar from person to person who are in similar stages of their cancer. The universality of surgical processes is discussed in Pearl Katz’s article “Ritual in the Operating Room”. When it comes down to going under the knife, people stick to following the medical facility’s procedures and hold great trust in the doctors (Katz). On the other end of the knife, doctors and surgeons strategically plan out and execute their treatment in an orderly manner. Other treatments from side effects and outside factors depend on the individual themselves. The critical approach also deals with handling issues considering matter outside of the disease, and the unexpected that comes along with cancer. Psychological effects often come into play during stressful parts of fighting cancer. Patients are also more vulnerable to contract other diseases after recovering from cancer since the intense treatment takes away a good amount of white blood cells. Providing breast cancer patients with a good environment while making sure they are receiving proper nutrition and keeping their body healthy are just some of the tasks to consider in the critical approach to this disease.

Applied medical anthropology deals with understanding disease in ways of solving problems, finding improvements, and observing trends across the world. Globalization has expanded medicine out to many various cultures and has an influence on how health is maintained. Thus, breast cancer around the world is interpreted and handled differently and can be open to outside influence or help. One’s culture does not have as much of an influence on their disease as you may think. Culture can actually hinder the process if doctors consider their background and genes over more important factors (Kleinman, Benson). Advancements in medicine are constantly happening around us and applied anthropology deals with this and other factors that the future may hold. Today’s society holds plenty of new technology that can potentially put people in danger of contracting cancer. A medical anthropologist’s goal would be to find the balance between using new advancements to promote cancer-free health and reducing the risks that come along with it.

Each anthropological approach should be considered in any sort of disease, but in this case I would personally take the applied approach when dealing with breast cancer. This approach is most likely to promote the advancement of new medical ideas, technology, and methods. Perhaps in the future applied medical anthropology may lead to the discovery of the cure to cancer.  I would also like to see medical professionals beginning to use anthropology more in their practices as it has proven to help improve the quality of care people receive and can lead to new discoveries and advancements.  Nonetheless, anthropology plays a major role in medicine today, especially when dealing with people individually, and will continue to serve as a great tool in the health and well being of our population.


“Breast Cancer Treatment.” National Cancer Institute. Accessed August 18, 2016.


“How Is Breast Cancer Diagnosed?” How Is Breast Cancer Diagnosed? Accessed August 18, 2016.


Katz, Pearl. “Ritual in the Operating Room.” Accessed August 17, 2016.


Kleinman, Arthur, and Peter Benson. “Anthropology in the Clinic.” Accessed August 16, 2016.

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