"Cancer as the general population knows it": knowledge, fear, and lay education in 1950s Britain

Bull Hist Med. 2007 Spring;81(1):116-38. doi: 10.1353/bhm.2007.0013.


This article examines British medical debates about cancer education in the 1950s, debates that reveal how those responsible for cancer control thought about the public and their relationship to it, and what they thought the new political economy of medicine introduced by the National Health Service would mean for that relationship. Opponents of education campaigns argued that such programs would add to the economic and organizational pressures on the NHS, by setting in motion an ill-informed, uncontrollable demand that would overwhelm the service. But an influential educational "experiment" devised by the Manchester Committee on Cancer challenged these doubts, arguing that the public's fear was based in their experience with family and friends dying of the disease. The challenge for cancer control, then, was to improve that experience and thus change experiential knowledge.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health*
  • Fear*
  • Health Education / history*
  • Health Education / methods
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / history*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Public Health / history*
  • Sociology, Medical / history
  • State Medicine
  • United Kingdom