The nebula of chronicity: Dealing with metastatic breast cancer in the UK

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In this article, I explore how the concept of chronicity is mobilised by different actors in reference to metastatic breast cancer (MBC) and the transformation of the condition as a consequence of medical innovations. I do so by using data collected in the UK between 2017 and 2019 through in-depth interviews with medical professionals involved in the treatment of MBC and with patients living with MBC. I show how chronicity appears as a multidimensional and uncertain concept, which I analyse through the image of the nebula. While the medical literature tends to consider MBC chronic or on route to chronicisation, the medical professionals interviewed were uncertain as to whether MBC can be considered a chronic disease, and attempted to discuss chronicity through survival times, the kind of management possible for the disease, and how it compares to other conditions more commonly considered chronic. In some cases, the patients considered the idea of chronicity a source of hope or a way to link their condition to those of people with other diseases; however, they generally rejected the definition as inappropriate for their experience of the illness. Analysing the fluid uses of the concept of chronicity in the case of MBC contributes to the debate within medical anthropology on how medical categories acquire different values and uses and on the circulation of meanings between the biomedical context and the patient experience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-121
Number of pages15
JournalAnthropology and Medicine
Issue number1
Early online date11 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • Metastatic breast cancer
  • United Kingdom
  • chronic disease
  • medical professionals
  • patients’ experiences
  • Uncertainty
  • Breast Neoplasms/pathology
  • Humans
  • Female
  • Anthropology, Medical


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