The rise of cancer in urban India: Cultural understandings, structural inequalities and the emergence of the clinic

Health (London). 2012 May;16(3):250-66. doi: 10.1177/1363459311403949. Epub 2011 May 20.


Cancer services in India have evolved and expanded significantly in recent years, with a surge in the availability of biomedical oncological treatment facilities for certain cohorts of the Indian population in urban areas. Despite significant and sustained economic development in many areas of India, major issues persist in the delivery of cancer care, even in the context of relatively prosperous urban populations. This article explores the dilemmas evident in Indian cancer care as perceived by a group of Indian oncology clinicians. Specifically, the interviews focused on their perspectives on the key challenges facing cancer patients, particularly in relation to help-seeking and access to care. The main concerns that emerged in the interviews were: (a) practical constraint (i.e. access and treatment); (b) cultural values (i.e. communication, stigma and the clinic); and (c) structural conditions (i.e. inequalities related to place, gender and class). We unpack these as important elements of cancer care in contemporary India, and present Farmer's notion of structural violence, among other concepts, as potentially useful for understanding some facets of this social problem. We conclude that without a greater understanding of social and cultural issues shaping cancer care in India, little progress will be made in coping with a disease that is set to become a major burden within an increasingly prosperous and ageing population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care Facilities / statistics & numerical data
  • Culture*
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data*
  • Healthcare Disparities / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • India / epidemiology
  • Medical Oncology / statistics & numerical data
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Prejudice
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Sociology, Medical
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data