Embodied Changes and the Search for Gynecological Cancer Diagnosis

Abstract

The detection and successful treatment of cancers is dependent on timely presentation with abnormal and often subtle symptoms. In this article, we draw on research conducted with Australian immigrant women in 2001–02 who experienced delays in diagnosis of gynecological cancer. Data from in-depth interviews with women with gynecological cancer indicated a common trajectory of an “illness career,” whereby the search for diagnosis was often painful and lengthy, either because women normalized the abnormal signs or because their experiences of bodily abnormality, pain, and dysfunction contrasted with medical explanations. This delay was sometimes exacerbated by structural barriers. As a result, diagnosis was often protracted, during which time women presented with symptoms that were dismissed or resulted in the misdiagnosis, with a resultant loss of confidence in clinical services.