"Stigma" is a powerful word. Perhaps I live in a particularly wonderful community, but I don't think much about cancer stigma. When I first began this work in 1979, I did occasionally hear stories that suggested stigma was alive and well. Several people told me of being at large parties where everyone had a wine glass, and they were handed a paper up. One woman was fired when she lost her hair "because it will upset our clients." Others were asked to please not mention the "c word" to older relatives or to disguise their work absences with some less scary explanation.
When something like prejudice or fear or stigma comes up now, it is either related to dating ("who would want to go out with me now?") or concerns about work ("If I tell them I have cancer, I am afraid I will be left out of the inner circle."). I don't hear it just in general, but this article from BMC Cancer suggests that it still exists. If you have stories, I would love to hear them.
Here is the abstract and then a link:
Development of a scale to assess cancer stigma in the non-patient population
Laura AV Marlow* and Jane WardleAbstract
Background: Illness-related stigma has attracted considerable research interest, but few studies have specifically examined stigmatisation of cancer in the non-patient population. The present study developed and validated a Cancer Stigma Scale (CASS) for use in the general population.
Methods: An item pool was developed on the basis of previous research into illness-related stigma in the
general population and patients with cancer. Two studies were carried out. The first study used Exploratory
factor analysis to explore the structure of items in a sample of 462 postgraduate students recruited through a
London university. The second study used Confirmatory factor analysis to confirm the structure among 238
adults recruited through an online market research panel. Internal reliability, test-retest reliability and construct
validity were also assessed.
Results: Exploratory factor analysis suggested six subscales, representing: Awkwardness, Severity, Avoidance,
Policy Opposition, Personal Responsibility and Financial Discrimination. Confirmatory factor analysis confirmed
this structure with a 25-item scale. All subscales showed adequate to good internal and test-retest reliability in
both samples. Construct validity was also good, with mean scores for each subscale varying in the expected
directions by age, gender, experience of cancer, awareness of lifestyle risk factors for cancer, and social desirability.
Means for the subscales were consistent across the two samples.
Conclusions: These findings highlight the complexity of cancer stigma and provide the Cancer Stigma Scale (CASS) which can be used to compare populations, types of cancer and evaluate the effects of interventions designed to reduce cancer stigma in non-patient populations.