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Sexualizing Cancer

HPV and the Politics of Cancer Prevention

Sexualizing Cancer

HPV and the Politics of Cancer Prevention

The virus that changed how we think about cancer and its culprits—and the vaccine that changed how we talk about sex and its risks.
Starting in 2005, people in the US and Europe were inundated with media coverage announcing the link between cervical cancer and the sexually transmitted virus HPV. Within a year, product ads promoted a vaccine targeting cancer’s viral cause, and girls and women became early consumers of this new cancer vaccine. The knowledge of HPV’s broadening association with other cancers followed, which identified new at-risk populations—namely boys and men—and ignited a plethora of gendered and sexual issues related to cancer prevention.
Sexualizing Cancer is the first book dedicated to the emergence and proliferation of the HPV vaccine along with the medical capacity to screen for HPV—crucial landmarks in the cancer prevention arsenal based on a novel connection between sex and chronic disease. Interweaving accounts from the realms of biomedical science, public health, and social justice, Laura Mamo chronicles cervical cancer’s path out of exam rooms and into public discourse. She shows how the late twentieth-century scientific breakthrough that identified the human papilloma virus as having a causative role in the onset of human cancer ignited sexual politics, struggles for inclusion, new risk identities, and, ultimately, a new regime of cancer prevention. Mamo reveals how gender and other equity arguments from within scientific, medical, and advocate communities shaped vaccine guidelines, clinical trial funding, research practices, and clinical programs, with consequences that reverberate today. This is a must-read history of medical expansion—from a “woman’s disease” to a set of cancers that affect all genders—and of lingering sexualization, with specific gendered, racialized, and other contours along the way.

368 pages | 2 line drawings, 2 tables | 6 x 9

Gender and Sexuality

History of Science


Sociology: Medical Sociology


“An engaging, informative, and exceptionally erudite effort to explicate and analyze the complex, decades-long intertwining of HPV, cancer, gender, and sexuality. Sexualizing Cancer will be a welcome resource for scholars, clinicians, and policymakers.”

Laura M. Carpenter, Vanderbilt University

Table of Contents

Contagion: The Sexual Politics of Cancer and a New Regime of Cancer Prevention
Chapter One: Producing and Protecting Risky Girls
Chapter Two: “What’s In It for the Boys?”
Chapter Three: The Cancer That Dare Not Speak Its Name
Chapter Four: A Tale of Two Trials: Settling Debate through Evidence-Based Medicine
Chapter Five: A “Coming Epidemic” of HPV-Associated Oral Cancer
Chapter Six: Sex at the Oncology Office: Oral Cancer Care and the Politics of Prevention
Chapter Seven: Cervical Cancer’s Screening Politics
Chapter Eight: The Precision Imaginary: Optimizing Cancer Prevention Tools
Chapter Nine: Commodities of Sexual Health Care

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