REVIEW: Malignant

malignant coverMALIGNANT: How Cancer Becomes Us

Lochlan Jain

University of California Press

ISBN: 9708520276574

REVIEW: Dawn Garisch

Lochlan Jain is a cancer survivor. She is also an anthropologist living in the USA. Malignant is in part the personal story of what she aptly terms ‘living in prognosis’ after the ordeal of misdiagnosis and subsequent treatment for breast cancer. The book is also her detailed investigation of our profoundly diseased society.

Nearly half of all Americans will be diagnosed with an invasive cancer. The time lag between exposure to carcinogens and diagnosis makes pinpointing exact causes difficult, other than overt instances, e.g. smoking and lung cancer, asbestos exposure and mesothelioma. Many known and unregulated carcinogens are in our food, plastics, dyes and water. Fallout from war, even from medical treatments, add to risk. Modern life evolves in a soup of hormones and chemicals, driven by our quest for youth, fertility, fast food, easy travel, gizmos and wealth. There is a massive price to pay, and the cost is often born by those who do not benefit.

Jain unearths disturbing information, e.g. companies who make both carcinogen-containing products and chemotherapy drugs. Stating she doesn’t believe there is evil intent, Jain remarks that the way to make a fortune is to give cancer to someone who has health insurance, and then test, monitor and treat her for the rest of her life.

Jain’s personal narrative informs and enhances her research. Her ability to present her emotional turmoil, vulnerability, and even humour, as she finds herself ensnared by the big machine of what she terms ‘the medical industry’, is a thread that holds together an appalling story of the cover-ups and collusion between capital fearful of mass claims, the legal system that is too costly for individuals to seek redress, the health professionals who ask too few questions about causation, and the government agencies that are unwilling to regulate hazards.

There are no easy answers to the questions she poses. Malignant lifts the lid off cancer, showing it to be largely uncontrollable, unknowable, endemic to our culture, metastasising into every aspect of life on earth, from our economic system to traces of lead found in Arctic ice. We are paying too high a price for our way of life, and we need to know this.

Malignant is essential reading for anyone involved in cancer care, who is affected by cancer, or who might contract the illness. Going by the stats, that’s pretty much everyone.

  • Dawn Garisch, GP and author of Eloquent Body, Modjaji (2012)

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