The Politics of Cancer

Malignant Indifference

by Wendy N. Whitman Cobb


In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a war on cancer. But finding a cure is not simply a frustrating challenge for medical science; there are political, social, and economic factors at play.

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Cover image for The Politics of Cancer

March 2017


Pages 195
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Politics, Law, and Government/U.S. Public Policy and Administration
  Current Events and Issues/Health and Medicine

This book examines the politics of cancer, explains how our government is intrinsically tied to cancer research efforts, and documents how major political actors make cancer policy and are influenced in their decision making by political, social, scientific, and economic variables.

Is whether we contract cancer—and whether we survive the disease, if we get it—largely just a result of good versus bad luck, or are these outcomes regarding cancer tied to the policies and actions of our federal government? Cancer-treating drug development and approval is overseen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, billions of dollars of federal money are devoted towards cancer research, and exposure of citizens to potentially cancer-causing environments or chemicals is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Additionally, all of these factors can be affected by the political motivations of our most powerful politicians.

The Politics of Cancer: Malignant Indifference analyzes the policy environment of cancer in America: the actors, the political institutions, the money, and the disease itself, identifying how haphazard U.S. government policy toward cancer research has been and how the president, Congress, government bureaucracies, and even the cancer industry have failed to meet timelines and make the expected discoveries. Whitman Cobb examines funding for the National Cancer Institute and the roles of the executive, Congress, policy entrepreneurs, and the bureaucracy as well as that of the state of cancer science. She argues that despite the so-called "war on cancer," no strategic, comprehensive government policy has been imposed—leading to an indecisive cancer policy that has significantly impeded cancer research.

Written from a political science perspective, the book enables readers to gain insight into the realities of science policy and the ways in which the federal government is both the source of funding for much of cancer research and often deficient in setting comprehensive and consistent anti-cancer policy. Readers will also come to understand how Congress, the president, the bureaucracy, and the cancer industry all share responsibility for the current state of cancer policy confusion and consider whether pharmaceutical companies, for-profit cancer treatment hospitals, and interest groups like the American Cancer Society have a personal incentive to keep the fight alive.


  • Offers a critical viewpoint into the politics of cancer from a political science perspective, including an analysis of the politics of scientific discovery and the construction of scientific knowledge
  • Identifies how the making of cancer policy is affected by various political, social, scientific, and economic factors and highlights how politics influences many decisions that should logically be based on science
  • Provides insights from the author's personal perspective on the subject, as her father is currently battling cancer and being treated in a clinical trial
Author Info

Wendy N. Whitman Cobb, PhD, is assistant professor of political science at Cameron University, Lawton, OK. She received her doctorate from the University of Florida and is the author of Unbroken Government: Success and Failure in Policymaking. Dr. Whitman Cobb's research has appeared in Congress and the Presidency and Space Policy.



"This informative book is for any individual interested in learning the history of cancer and the current state of the science regarding the management of this horrific disease. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above; faculty and professionals."Choice

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The Politics of Size cover imageAn Empowering Guide to Lung Cancer cover image

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