What is so Special about Cancer? Perspectives from Clinical Research, Philosophy and Social Sciences

5 April 2018, 13:30 - 6 April 2018, 17:15

SG1/2 Alison Richard Building, Sidgwick Site

Online registration is now open for this event. It is free to attend but registration is necessary.  To book your place please click here or use the online registration link on this page.

Cancer is accorded a special status in public debates, policy, clinical research and clinical practice. Relative to disease burden, cancer research receives a disproportionately high amount of funding compared to other diseases.  In addition, some healthcare systems preferentially fund treatments for cancer. The Cancer Drugs Fund under the NHS, for example, created a funding mechanism dedicated solely to cancer drugs, which are treated more favourably when there are gaps in the evidence base supporting their cost-effectiveness. Meanwhile, the desire to detect cancer earlier via screening remains highly controversial—both in terms of its overall effectiveness and in terms of the best way to treat low-risk cancers. Such issues consistently place cancer under public scrutiny, creating dominant discourses that shape the very experience of the disease within one’s culture.

This conference brings together perspectives from clinical research, medical practice, philosophy, health economics and psychology to explore what makes cancer so special. Is the current amount of funding for cancer research and treatment justifiable? Are existing arrangements consistent with public perceptions of cancer, and what can the lived experience of actual patients, carers and clinicians teach us? Where is cancer research, treatment and policy going? This conference provides an opportunity to examine whether the special status of cancer is justifiable, and to explore the implications for the future of medicine.

Speakers: Karl Claxton (University of York), Peter Gøtzsche (Nordic Cochrane Centre), Shelley Hwang (Duke University), Stephen John (University of Cambridge), Christopher McCabe (Institute for Health Economics), Christian Munthe (University of Gothenburg), Mark Sheehan (University of Oxford), and Carla Willig (City, University of London).

Gabriele Badano (CRASSH Limits of the Numerical Project)
Joseph Wu (HPS, Cambridge)

For administrative enquiries please contact Michelle Maciejewska.

This event is sponsored by the Limits of the Numerical research group at CRASSH, University of Cambridge, with generous support from the Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF). 

Thursday 5 April 13.30-13.45





Session 1

Karl Claxton (University of York)
How much can the NHS afford to pay for new cancer drugs?

Christian Munthe (University of Gothenburg)
The magic word? Ethical experience of prioritizing cancer-related health action in a Swedish context


Tea/coffee break


Session 2

Peter Gøtzsche (Nordic Cochrane Centre)
Why you should usually avoid cancer screening and always distrust cancer charities' seducing announcements about screening


Wine reception

Friday 6 April 9.30-11.30

Session 3

Shelley Hwang (Duke University)
When should we intervene for cancer?

Carla Willig (City, University of London)
Phenomenological repercussions of cancer discourse


Coffee break


Session 4

Stephen John (University of Cambridge)
'"First, do no harm?" Dread, overdiagnosis and the ethics of cancer screening




Session 5

Chris McCabe (Institute for Health Economics)
Cancer: check your privilege!

Mark Sheehan (University of Oxford)
Fair allocation of resources, rarity and the specialness of cancer


Tea/coffee break


Roundtable and closing remarks