Embodying illness, embodying cancer

Cult Med Psychiatry. 1990 Jun;14(2):275-97. doi: 10.1007/BF00046665.


Individuals and societies embody illnesses in different ways, in part determined by the way a person knows and lives his or her diagnosis and prognosis. Based on research in Northern Italy, on the experiences and meanings of cancer and on the practice of nondisclosure of the diagnosis, we find nondisclosure reflects a world divided--life/death, good/bad, mind/body--with the unwanted converted to "other." The strong association of cancer with death, suffering, and hopelessness in much of Italy, coupled with the tremendous power attributed to naming and "sentencing" makes nondisclosure a major mechanism for keeping the "condemned" in this social world, and keeping death, decay, and suffering in the "other." It is the social reality that is dominant here, such that informing a patient of cancer can be tantamount to social death.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Attitude to Death
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Prognosis
  • Sick Role*
  • Truth Disclosure