Breast cancer : patient narratives and treatment methods

Whitman, Birgit (2004) Breast cancer : patient narratives and treatment methods. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis concentrates on the treatment of women with breast cancer in the 19th and 20th century. It analyses written published patient narratives linking them with clinical developments. Medical history holds a rich source of information providing the view of the clinician. This includes case reports and case series from one surgeon or one hospital for the earlier period of the study and has progressed to the double blind randomised controlled trial that dominates comparative research today.

There is an imbalance in the material available for the analysis of patients’ perceptions of their treatment. The patient view is not represented well in the history of medicine. This thesis attempts to provide a more complete assessment of the developments in breast cancer treatment by including the patient’s view.

Three narratives provide an insight into the perception of women who were treated with breast cancer prior to the introduction of anaesthesia and infection control. The novelist, Fanny Burney (1752-1840), underwent a mastectomy in 1811. In a letter to her sister she wrote about her experience providing details of her diagnosis and treatment. In comparison, Emily Gosse (1806-1857) refused a mastectomy for her breast cancer and sought alternative treatment with caustics. Her husband, Phillip Gosse and friend, Anna Shipton, wrote narratives about Emily’s suffering. A third narrative provides the view of a woman with breast cancer who received no treatment and died of metastatic breast cancer; Zelie Martin died in 1877.

These narratives were linked to a case report by Lorenz Heister (1683-1758). Heister described the procedure for amputation of the breast in detail. His method prevailed until new scientific developments in surgery such as anaesthesia and infection control improved the short-term survival of patients and enabled surgeons to operate sooner with a greater attention to detail.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Wellcome Institute for History of Medicine
Subjects: R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0254 Neoplasms. Tumors. Oncology (including Cancer)
Colleges/Schools: College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences
Supervisor's Name: Geyer-Kordesch, Johanna and Earnshaw, Jonothan
Date of Award: 2004
Depositing User: Elaine Ballantyne
Unique ID: glathesis:2004-2969
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 28 Oct 2011
Last Modified: 06 Feb 2014 14:09

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