Rare and tragic: Young women diagnosed with advanced breast cancer; a discourse analysis

Author: Katrina Margaret Breaden

Breaden, Katrina Margaret, 2009 Rare and tragic: Young women diagnosed with advanced breast cancer; a discourse analysis, Flinders University, School of Medicine

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Recent research into advanced breast cancer has suggested that young women in general tend to have more aggressive disease, present at a later stage of disease progression and suffer many more issues and concerns than their older counterparts. Whilst breast cancer in women in general has been the target of a vast amount of research and public attention, values and beliefs surrounding advanced breast cancer have not been a focus of concern. The aim of this thesis is to explore scientific journals, the media and to listen to the young women themselves in order to identify the understandings of advanced breast cancer in young women and the ways in which these understandings are perpetuated and sustained over time. The goal is to illuminate the various discourses that are currently being drawn upon to understand this life-limiting illness and the impact these discourses have on the lives of young women concerned. Poststructuralism is the theoretical perspective within which this thesis is located. This approach allowed for a focus on language, power and text. Discourse analysis of three data sets was used. These data sets were drawn from scientific and medical journals (251), medical texts (5), clinical practice guidelines (2), newspaper articles (230) and transcribed conversations with 12 young women diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. The main discourses identified within and across the various data sets were; the discourse of numeracy, the discourse of tragedy and several discourses of the body; the thin body, the declining body, the object body and the gendered body. While the emphasis of each of these discourses varied across the three data sets, they were all present in each to some degree, reflecting broader cultural stories within which the individual stories are located. Young women diagnosed and living with advanced breast cancer are currently being portrayed as living with a tragic disease, controlled and constrained by the statistics and probabilities and played out within and on a body in ‘perpetual disintegration’. The discourses of tragedy, numeracy and the thin, object, gendered and declining body all relate to larger stories of what it is to be dying before one’s time in Western society today.

Keywords: discourse analysis,numeracy,tragedy,body,young women,advanced breast cancer

Subject: Medicine thesis, Palliative Care thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2009
School: School of Medicine
Supervisor: Professors Trudy Rudge, Ian Maddocks and Carol Grbich