SCHOOL OF HUMANITIES AND SOCIAL SCIENCES
Taking Control of CancerWomen with cancer want increased control and better information about their treatment options, concludes new research by David Hess, professor of anthropology at Rensselaer. The research, funded by the National Science Foundation, is documented in a new book written by Hess and Margaret Wooddell, a Rensselaer researcher and graduate student. Women Confront Cancer: Making Medical History by Choosing Alternative and Complementary Therapies (NYU Press) includes a series of interviews with 21 women with cancer.
"These interviews are political documents in the struggle for women's increased control over their bodies and the availability of diagnostic and therapeutic options," says Hess.
Many cancer survivors attribute their success in overcoming the disease to designing their own course of treatment by opting for alternative and complementary therapies. Some women are tumor-free as a result of their treatment options; some are still confronting disease. The women interviewed are among the opinion leaders in the intersecting worlds of cancer advocacy, the women's health movement, and alternative/complementary medicine.
About one-third of cancer patients report they have used some form of alternative medicine, such as meditation, hypnosis, food supplements, or diet and exercise programs, according to a recent study.
The interviewees call for rights that go beyond "informed consent" to include better information about and evaluation of treatment programs that combine the best of both worlds.
"There is a critical mass of women who can provide the necessary leadership to reform the cancer agenda," Hess says. "Overwhelmingly they are calling for better information about conventional, alternative, and complementary therapies, and for the rights of each woman to choose a mix of modalities that suits her disease and life circumstances. The book is about choice; it advocates getting more information to patients about options they often do not know they have."
A companion book by Hess, Evaluating Alternative Cancer Therapies, will be published by NYU Press this year and another planned volume will focus on male patients who have used alternative therapies.
All rights reserved