Publication Details

Hooker, C., Carter, S. M. & Davey, H. (2009). Writing the risk of cancer: Cancer risk in public policy. Health Risk and Society, 11 (6), 541-560.


In this paper we examine how cancer risk is written in cancer policy documents from the English speaking OECD nations. We offer an audit of the multiple ways in which cancer risk is conceptualised and presented in health policy and professional contexts with the long term aim of comparing this with lay conceptualisations. Our study sampled cancer policy documents produced by six nations, the World Health Organization and the International Union for Cancer Control since 2000 and analysed them iteratively through questions and codes. Whilst the documents contained a comprehensive range of concepts and locations for cancer risk, our analysis found two predominant representations: firstly, well established metaphors that depict cancer as uniformly dreadful and life threatening; and secondly, through a concentration on five behavioural risk factors (tobacco smoking, drinking alcohol, inadequate nutrition, sun exposure and physical inactivity) and one bodily state (overweight). We discuss the implications of this dual focus and of other tensions within ideas about cancer risk that we identified for risk communication.



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