“The mobilization of society is a positive point because it places everyone’s health in a collective battle” according to Jean Viard

Cancer affects nearly four million French people. On this World Cancer Day, let’s think about how it fits into our society.


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Society regularly mobilizes in the fight against cancer (here a race in Bordeaux on the occasion of Pink October), so everyone's health is part of a collective battle.  (JEAN MAURICE CHACUN / MAXPPP)

Cancer is the leading cause of premature mortality in our country. We all have one or more sick people in our entourage, directly or indirectly. How does cancer now fit into our society? The reflections of sociologist Jean Viard.

franceinfo: Pronouncing the word “cancer”, is this already an evolution, as this word has remained taboo for a long time?

Jean Viard: It’s true. However, cancer is a very old disease, which has existed forever. But it has grown due to our lifestyles, and also the aging of the population. As there are more of them and we have realized that it is not a communicable disease, we tend to hide it less. This allows you to bear the suffering a little better. We talk about all these bodily issues because, also, everything that is intimate is no longer hidden, as in the past.

Cancer has forced its way in a bit. In companies, for example, do we approach it differently?

Yes, we have become aware that many cancers are treatable, fortunately, some better than others. In parallel theResearch advances and continues to progress every day. Thus, as we have a greater chance of healing ourselves, we become more combative, more motivated than when faced with a losing battle. Progress linked to Messenger RNA – used to fight Covid-19 – has also boosted research, particularly for vaccines that exist against certain cancers, particularly for children and adolescents. However, in France, few people benefit from it, unlike other countries where all young people are vaccinated against certain cancers. It’s amazing. Please note, let’s be clear, there is not a vaccine for cancer in general, but specific vaccines, for example for young girls against uterine cancer.

Are the French afraid of the vaccine?

Maybe. There was this absurd speech made during Covid-19 which generated fear of the vaccine. We must tell people to get vaccinated en masse! Cancer is terrible: 60% of French people risk developing cancer during their lifetime. Everyone must erect their own barriers: not drinking too much alcohol, not smoking, not being sedentary, agreeing to protect themselves against papillomavirus, etc. It must also be said that there is great inequality in care. The extremely advanced hospitals are in the big cities. This issue of inequality of access should not be underestimated.

This disease nevertheless mobilizes society: numerous associations, events and concerts make it possible to collect donations against cancer. This is essential ?

Yes. First of all, cancer is an absolute tragedy for those who are sick, and for everyone around them; it can last a long time, it deconstructs the entire sentimental web in which each of us, in principle, is caught. But it is true that the mobilization of society is a very positive point, because everyone’s health is fundamentally part of a collective battle, in the fact of not being alone. In addition, obviously, this supplements the financial resources of the public authorities. Bonding with each other through the battle against death is a beautiful reality.

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