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The Topic of Cancer

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Shouty Guy from Mondo Medicals explains cancer

There are all manners of terrible diseases out there, deadly and incapacitating, annoying and disfiguring, and even a few truly horrifying fates worse than death.

But in the world of fiction (and according to popular belief, in real life as well), one disease stands tall and terrible above the rest- a disease so deadly, so silent, so inevitable, so evil, that its very name has become synonymous with death. A disease whose mere mention provokes feelings of foreboding terror, disgust and paranoia in modern humans: the dreaded Malignant Neoplasm, or in layman's terms, cancer.

There are countless types of cancer, but all share the same defining nature: in cancer, the reproduction of cells goes out of control. Instead of dividing and multiplying in an orderly fashion, as they should, the cells multiply chaotically and violently without stopping, invading nearby parts of the body, and sometimes even spreading further through the bloodstream or lymphatic system. Ideally, cells have several countermeasures against such a destructive chain reaction starting, many emergency fallback mechanisms meant to destroy the out-of-control cell before it can cause damage, but once in a while, those emergency killswitch mechanisms fail.

The causes of cancer are numerous, and can include anything from old age to exposure to certain chemicals (such as the ones found in cigarette smoke), to exposure to great amounts of radiation (this association with the evils of nuclear power or weapons may be part of the reason for the fear of cancer underlying modern society's perception) to sheer bad luck. The truth is, that in the end, nobody can say for sure who will have cancer and when. Right now, your father may be developing cancer, or your girlfriend, or your dog. Even if they've never even been near Hiroshima or Chernobyl, even if they don't smoke or drink, even if they live in a sterile bubble, even if they run 6 miles a day and eat nothing but kale, they may still develop cancer. There is no way to tell for sure without checking, and even if they turn out not to have cancer right now, nothing can assure that they won't develop one tomorrow, or in three minutes.

Indeed, partially because of successful use of the aforementioned "failsafes" most of the human race is still alive, as 90% of the human race technically has cancer at any one time.

It could happen to anyone, any time, and they would die a slow, excruciating death as their bodies destroy themselves from the inside because of a tiny programming error in the coding of a single cell that prevented it from ever hearing the order to "stop multiplying". There would be few symptoms at the beginning, all of them easy to miss, but towards the end, Body Horror will hit in full force as the tumors, black and slimy or bloated and red would become visible over the skin. Or perhaps, they never will, and all you would see is the patient writhing in agony for days before finally finding release in death. Or they could just go out with a single seizure, out of the blue...

Even if the cancer is discovered and medical treatment is available, the fact that cancer is essentially an out-of-control aspect of the living body means that the only way to treat it effectively is to kill the growing body. Chemotherapy for cancer involves intentionally poisoning a person just enough not to kill them, but to (hopefully) kill the tumors growing in them. The side effects are horrific: over the course of the long, long treatment, chemotherapy and radiotherapy will cast the patient down into the dark depths of the Uncanny Valley, causing them to slowly and painfully lose anything they had of the image of a healthy human being. Hair will fall, nails will break, fat will disappear. They will vomit, and they will wither, and they will cry silently as they are transformed into pale, skinny mockeries of the human form not by a disease, but by the cure, helplessly watching this cruel world from behind lifeless, sleepy eyes.

At its core, cancer is the perversion of the things we hold most sacred on the most fundamental level: reproduction, life, growth, fertility. The brightest and most wonderful things in nature twisted and mutated into something frightening, something repulsive and wrong by a mindless, faceless force that still somehow manages to seem outright malevolent. It is not surprising that just by mentioning the word "cancer", any instance biological horror may instantly become scarier, any scientific experiment more taboo, any associated magic or power evil.

Note that this trope isn't just for cases of cancer appearing in fiction: The Topic of Cancer means that the word, term, or very concept of cancer is used specifically to evoke that semi-rational, paranoid terror and revulsion and creepiness that are associated with cancer, or with implications that cancer is somehow worse in some way than other diseases or conditions.

The Littlest Cancer Patient attempts to invoke this for emotional torque, often unsuccessfully.

The inversion is The Disease That Shall Not Be Named, where the work avoids saying cancer (or any other given disease) because it's so horrifying.

Not related to the Topic of Capricorns.


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  • Anti-tobacco ads like to point out that tobacco use causes all sorts of horrible cancers as an effort to stop people from using tobacco. Sometimes this comes with graphic images of cancer-ridden cadavers pulled from now dead smokers and/or actual dying cancer patients.

    Anime and Manga 
  • An episode/chapter of Cells at Work! deals with cancer, treating the carcinoma as a Tragic Villain born wrong due to a tissue cell's bad day. Breeding out of control is his way of throwing a Suicidal Cosmic Temper Tantrum.
  • Franken Fran:
    • Used for karmic justice (and the compulsory Body Horror) in one story. A rich villain hires Fran to extend her life and tries to get her killed to steal her research (fortunately, Fran is ambiguously undead and can live through decapitation). Fran returns to the villain's mansion and finds her Showing Off the New Body; the experimental formula allowed her telomeres to regenerate indefinitely, making her cells immortal. Just as the first side effects start to appear, Fran calmly explains that the only cells not programmed to die of old age are cancer cells. She then walks away, leaving her client "immortal" — as a gibbering pile of semi-liquid flesh.
    • Another issue has an abandoned girl afflicted by teratomas (a sort of tumor that produces organ tissue in areas it's not supposed to be in), almost completely subsumed by a massive lump of half-formed limbs. This has a happy ending (happy as it gets for this series), however, as Fran is at least able to treat her condition enough for her to re-enter society.
  • Mitsuki Koyama, the protagonist of Full Moon, has a cancer in her throat played for full terror-tragedy value. In her particular case, her dream is to become an idol singer, but the only way to remove the cancer by the point the story begins involves a surgery that would render her permanently mute.
  • The symptoms of the Apocalypse Virus from Guilty Crown are explicitly referred to as "cancerous", and constant comparisons to cancer are made. Needless to say, it is quite horrible.
  • Elizabeta from Gunslinger Girl was a young Russian ballerina who developed bone cancer in her teenage years because she spent a period of her childhood in an area of the Ukraine that was heavily affected by the Chernobyl incident. Due to the generally primitive state of public healthcare in ex-USSR areas, the cancer is not contained properly and by the time Elizabeta arrives in Italy for further treatment, the doctors decide that the best bet would be to amputate her leg before the cancer spreads. Realizing that she will never be able to dance again, Elizabeta tries to kill herself. This is remarkable because of all the other girls' backstories, this one is the second most detailed (by far) and the most often referenced (usually by people expressing pity over the poor, poor girl with the cancer), while the stories of girls who were nearly murdered, mutilated by car accidents, raped, or born with horrific disfigurements get barely a line. The only story that gets more screen time than Elizabeta's is of the girl who was used as a living prop in snuff porn films. Elizabeta, now known as Petruskha, eventually develops leukemia anyway, and dies peacefully in the epilogue.
  • At the start of Stop Hibari Kun, Kousaku's mother dies of stomach cancer. This causes him to be sent to live with an old friend of hers.

    Comic Books 
  • 52: Vic Sage's battle with cancer forms one of the main storylines. And then he dies of it.
  • Black Canary: The original Black Canary, Dinah Drake, died of cancer caused by the radiation from a blast that killed her husband years earlier.
  • Captain Marvel: The Death of Captain Marvel is possibly the classic Marvel Comics example. It starts in an earlier story when Mar-Vell stops the villain Nitro from stealing a container of Deadly Gas, which leaks during the fight. Mar-Vell manages to reseal it and eventually is given an antidote in time while unconscious, but the gas' carcinogenic effects later give him fatal cancer, albeit suppressed for years by his Nega-bands until it mutates past their resistance and making it impossible to treat without assistance from the Kree medical community — which, needless to say, is a non-starter for a traitor like himself. There are also alternate universes where Mar-Vell's cancer is actually cured with disastrous results. One universe turned his cancer into a contagious plague that took the life of the Thing and numerous Kree and Skrull. Another had the Eldritch Abomination group known as the Many-Angled Ones turn Mar-Vell's cancer into a way to transform Earth's heroes into their soldiers, creating the Cancerverse.
  • Concrete: In "A Remarkable Life", Concrete sprouts antlers that grow uncontrollably and apparently without bound. Chadwick mentions in his blog that the antlers are "a metaphor for cancer".
  • Daredevil: In the second half of Daredevil (Mark Waid), Matt discovers that his best friend Foggy Nelson has cancer. Complicating matters is right around this time Matt has gone public with his identity, so people know he's a friend of Daredevil, which means that if he checks into a hospital to try and have it treated, any villain who wants to settle the score with Daredevil could target him. This forces Matt to fake Foggy's death while he undergoes treatment in secret.
  • Deadpool: This trope accounts for a large part of Deadpool's origin. After being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Wade is offered the chance of a cure by Weapon X, who implant a version of Wolverine's Healing Factor in him. However, this makes both his healthy cells and his cancer cells immortal, giving him the power of being riddled with tumors and not dying from it (or anything else), with the constant cellular chaos driving him to insanity.
  • Empowered: The drug "Mayfly" gives the user super-intelligence but will kill them within 24 hours from brain cancer (that is, assuming that it doesn't just do that without giving you anything in return), unless they manage to use their newfound genius in order to survive... as a horrible, grotesque mass of cancerous flesh.
  • EC Comics: In "Strictly from Hunger!" from The Vault of Horror #27, a small-town man is diagnosed with a tumor. After his doctor's rather unprofessional comment that "The malignant one keeps growing till it kills you! 'Tain't no use removin' it!" he goes to a witch who promises to hex him so that he'd never die. However, she says nothing about curing the tumor, which eventually takes over his entire body, turning him into a giant, shapeless lump of flesh which knows only hunger.
  • The Incredible Hulk: In The Incredible Hulk (1968) #150-151, Morton Clegstead, a wealthy cancer patient, came up with a convoluted plan to get the Hulk's gamma-irradiated blood in the hopes that this would make his normal cells superpowered and able to overcome the cancer. Instead, the cancer cells were the ones that became super-powered, with nightmarish results, turning him into a massive mass of cancer cells. There was a callback to this years later when Hulk learned that one of his old friends was dying of AIDS and refused to donate his blood for fear something similar would happen.
  • The Mighty Thor: Jane Foster, the long-time love interest of Thor, is discovered to have cancer. Her being the female Thor isn't helping — in fact, it makes things worse, as the cancer spreads each time she transforms. It's later revealed that Mjölnir has the power to remove poisons from the wielder's body. Since Mjölnir considers her chemotherapy to be poison, it removes the chemicals, which does more damage to her body.
  • Ruins: This very Darker and Edgier alternate universe has Bruce Banner transform into a cancerous Blob Monster instead of a green Hulk.
  • Spider-Man:
    • Used as a Fate Worse than Death in one version of Venom's origin. It turns out that Eddie Brock has cancer which, through hormonal imbalance, causes fits of rage, ruining his life. The symptoms also attract the Venom symbiote to him. The symbiote wants to take over Peter but ends up attached to Brock and unable to switch hosts again. It has the power to stop the cancer from spreading but can't afford to cure it as it relies on it for food. This leaves Brock superpowered, angry, and in constant pain — for the rest of his life. It ended up being cured sometime later thanks to Mr. Negative soon after Eddie surrendered the symbiote to be bidden off. In Venom (Donny Cates), it is suggested that Eddie's cancer wasn't actually cancer, but the symbiote manipulating his mind and body to make him think he did, thus they could stay together.
    • A minor but very creepy villain named Styx is at one point called "living cancer". He's a victim of Playing with Syringes trying to find a cancer cure by way of Acquired Poison Immunity — by exposing him to mutagens. Instead, it gives him the power to make anything he touches wither and rot. The experience also twists his mind — if his ability wasn't limited to touch, he would be an Omnicidal Maniac.
    • In Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man Vol 2 #1, it's revealed that Aunt May has cancer and she's terrified of letting Peter know. When she finally does, one of the things he does is head for Doctor Strange (he was taking a kid there after he had accidentally broken his arm and the kid had no insurance) and start to ask for help. Strange cuts him off and suggests that he just take the time to be with her... and also to not take up deals with interdimensional demons (which Peter agrees to).
  • Superman: Post-Crisis, Lex Luthor is stricken with cancer due to his hand wearing a signet ring with a Kryptonite stone in it (a major departure from the previous depiction of Kryptonite as harmless to humans). They initially lop off his hand and replace it with a robotic prosthetic, but it is discovered that it has actually spread to the rest of his body, forcing Luthor to fake his death and come back in a clone body.
  • Watchmen: Doctor Manhattan is extremely distraught to discover that the radiation emitted by his physical avatar gave terminal cancer to people who spent too much time around him. This was actually a ploy by Ozymandias, who gave them cancer himself so that Doctor Manhattan would seclude himself on Mars, where he wouldn't interfere with Ozymandias's conspiracy.
  • Wonder Girl: Prior to getting hit with one of the worst Continuity Snarls in comics, Donna Troy's birth mother had to give her up despite loving her and not wanting to let go because she had terminal cancer and knew she wouldn't live long enough to raise her daughter. Donna's father is never mentioned, only the tragedy of her young mother whose life was cut short by the terrible disease.

    Comic Strips 
  • The comic perhaps most well-known for this has to be Funky Winkerbean. When it first showed up, it was a serious topic but ended on a hopeful note as Lisa overcame it and resumed her life. Then it came back, and she died; from then on, cancer and the pain it causes has a lingering effect over the characters in the strip. At least one minor character in its sister strip, Crankshaft, has also died from it unceremoniously.

    Fan Works 
  • In Jessica, Cameron's mother dies of cancer while he is still a young child. He says that everybody but himself foresaw her death.
  • In Luminosity, Gianna's brother Ilario is dying of cancer; her main reason for wanting to become a vampire is so that she can save him by turning him.

  • Annihilation (2018) is essentially a cancer metaphor applied to First Contact. A meteorite crashes on a beach and starts to reform the environment and wildlife around it in a hazardous and aimless manner, right down to the laws of physics. Made explicit by one of the first scenes where the main character gives a lecture about cancerous cells to her class.
  • In Brian's Song, the title character dies from testicular cancer which has spread to his lungs, the first symptom of which is an Incurable Cough of Death that he at first attributes to hay fever or allergies.
  • Crazy, Stupid, Love: Played for Laughs. Cal shows up to work miserable and his coworkers all assume it's cancer. When they learn it's a divorce, they applaud that it's not cancer.
  • Similar to Annihilation and made decades earlier, The Fly (1986) is a metaphor for aging, disease, and death applied to the results of a Teleporter Accident. The protagonist unknowingly genetically splices himself with a housefly, resulting in a Slow Transformation rife with Body Horror (his fingernails come loose, he must vomit on solid food in order to consume it, he develops strange growths, he loses his hair...) that he explicitly refers to as "a bizarre form of cancer" at one point. In his final humanoid stage, before his mutant insectoid form emerges, he resembles nothing so much as a mass of tumors. Writer-director David Cronenberg (who lost his father to cancer) has remarked that audiences would out of hand reject a film that depicts actual aging/disease so graphically, but the fantastic nature of the transformation here gives them just enough distance to handle it while still noticing the metaphor.
  • In In the Land of Women, Sarah has breast cancer, and we see her dealing with the after-effects of chemotherapy, she has serious talks with her family about what she'll have to deal with, and she has a Heroic BSoD when she finds out how sick she is. Unlike most versions of this trope, however, it's implied that she gets better at the end.
  • Nux from Mad Max: Fury Road sports a couple of deadly tumors on his neck. He's named them Larry and Barry.
  • The Matrix:
    Agent Smith: Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague, and we... are the cure.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus: In one animated segment, a prince sees a black spot on his face, but ignores it. Then he dies of cancer. (It should be noted in at least one version, it's changed to gangrene. It's pretty obvious that this was changed, since the narration changes from a woman's voice to a man's — but then again, this is Monty Python, so it's less jarring than it'd be otherwise.)
  • Phenomenon: A lowly auto mechanic named George Malley sees a flash of unearthly light, hears a strange sound and falls unconscious. When he wakes up, he's got Super-Intelligence and even telekinetic powers. It turns out that he's got a massive cancer in his brain that by complete coincidence happens to enhance certain functions by pushing against rarely activated parts of it. The flash of light was an epileptic hallucination brought upon by the cancer, which is slowly killing him.
  • A bit of an oddball example is in The Room (2003), wherein Claudette flat-out states that she is dying from breast cancer during one scene. This is promptly forgotten and never mentioned again.
  • Thor: Love and Thunder loosely adapts elements from Jane Foster's time as Thor in Thor (2014). After her diagnosis, she travels to New Asgard to find the shattered remains of Mjölnir, which reform and grant her the powers of Thor. She stays transformed for most of the movie, as her mortal form not only remains weak, but the transformations are also making her illness worse.

  • The Fault in Our Stars:
    • Generally inverted. Both of the main protagonists (and half of the supporting cast) have cancer. They all speak of their condition with a blasé-ness that only terminal cancer patients can muster. People who try to sentimentalize or go emotionally overboard over the condition are heartily mocked.
    • That said, when Gus reveals that his cancer has returned, ten times nastier, it is treated as a major heart-wrenching moment, because up to this point, Gus has been comparatively healthy compared to the Delicate and Sickly Hazel, only to have the roles cruelly reversed. It doesn't help that he ends up succumbing at the end.
  • In Gangsta Granny, things turn serious the moment that the word "cancer" is mentioned in what was previously a comedy book.
  • Lilith's Brood: The Oankali, a Superior Species with incredible powers of Biomanipulation, are uncharacteristically horrified by Earth organisms' ability to develop cancer — even the concept feels completely wrong to their senses. However, once studied, the phenomenon helps them greatly improve their powers.
  • This is Lurlene McDaniel's bread and butter. Not only is cancer a major theme of her books, but the stories go into great detail about the diseases, treatments, surgeries, and side effects. These are the kinds of cancer books that The Fault in Our Stars mocks.
  • The story "Metastasis" by Dan Simmons is built heavily around this trope. Apparently cancer is caused by a parasitic race that uses humans as breeding grounds. In effect, each tumor is actually a larva that devours humans from the inside as it reproduces wildly until there is nothing left. The parents then come back and devour their offspring for nourishment occasionally leaving one or two to germinate into an adult.
  • the third storyline in each Rocheworld book involves the Herouc Sacrifice of one of the exploration ships crew, who is taken off of a life-extending drug to bring him back up to adult intelligence to deal with an outbreak of Hodgkin's Lymphoma (a virus that causes cancer of the lymph nodes). He eventually dies of it because he can't operate on himself.
  • Secret Vampire: A major plot point is Poppy learning she's dying of pancreatic cancer, leading to James attempting to turn her into a vampire to save her.
  • The Summer I Turned Pretty takes a darker turn when Susannah Fisher reveals that her cancer came back and eventually dies from it.
  • Tuf Voyaging has a "cancer creature/living tumor" example in the "Meatbeast" that Haviland Tuf proposes as a temporary solution to S'uthlam's overpopulation-induced food shortage.
  • Sam, the title character in Ways to Live Forever, has leukemia; the book also has a film adaptation.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Adam Ruins Everything discusses (with the help of an actual doctor) why "routine" cancer screenings (e.g., mammograms, colonoscopies, Pap smears, etc.) aren't as helpful as they're often touted to be, at least not in younger, healthy people. They can give "false positives" (such as flagging an area of dense tissue as a tumor), and they aren't able to distinguish between different types of tumors (i.e., those that are benign, and those that are malignant, and those that are fast-growing and slow-growing, etc.). This results in patients getting harsh treatments (such as chemo) that they really don't need, or the wrong type of treatment for their particular lots of emotional and financial stress on these patients and their families. The result of this is that many doctors and cancer advocacy groups are now recommending that (if they're not considered "high risk") they start the "routine" screenings later in life and have them less often.
  • The series Breaking Bad revolves around the protagonist, Walter White, discovering during the pilot that he has terminal lung cancer. It is this discovery that kick-starts the action of the show.
  • Dexter:
    • Debra and Dexter's mother died of cancer when they were teenagers. Debra once says she can't visit Camilla, their family friend because her suffering would remind her of her own mother too much and she thinks she could not cope.
    • Camilla and her husband were friends of Harry Morgan (Dexter's father). They have been heavy smokers all their life. Camilla is already widowed in season one. In season three, she's dying of lung cancer and in excruciating pain. She wishes to die soon to cut short her suffering.
  • In Everwood, Rose Abbott is diagnosed with cancer. She survives, but she suffers horribly, going through chemo and operation procedures. Also, her family is devastated by the fear of losing her.
  • In House, now that the oncologist, Wilson, himself has cancer, it's an opportunity for the writers to both show more of their relationship with House, and how firsthand knowledge of what cancer actually does to patients affects their reasoning when seeking treatment.
  • Justified: We learn that Helen Givens is a cancer survivor during an argument with Arlo in Season 2.
    Arlo: I hope you get cancer!
    Helen: Already had it!
    Arlo: I hope you get it again!
  • An early monologue by Bruce McCulloch in The Kids in the Hall has him apologizing to everyone for "causing all of that cancer". He says he did it because he "didn't realize it was such a horrifying disease" and he was "just on a roll".
  • In the sixth season of Kinpachi-sensei the titular teacher's teenage son is put in a hospital for leukemia treatment. He is at first incredibly stressed over the thought he's dying but eventually loses the attitude and refuses to give in. He gets better and makes a friend with a girl who has bone cancer.
  • The Midnight Club (2022): As the trailers show, the main character is diagnosed with thyroid cancer, prompting her to be sent to a hospice with a supernatural secret.
  • My Left Nut: Mick and his mother and both terrified that the swollen testicle he has means he has cancer, and even though it turns out not to be in the end, the story as a Disease-Prevention Aesop about how important it is to deal with this issue early, even with it's embarrassing to do so.
  • In NCIS, an old friend of Gibbs comes to him with a request to help his daughter, dying of cancer, to receive closure regarding a suspicious death of one of her colleagues the previous year, and in the course of the investigation, something happens that requires her to need protection. Gibbs assigns Torres to guard duty despite his protests, for reasons that Gibbs apparently already knows. His aloof demeanor leads her to believe that he'd lost someone to cancer before, and at the end of the episode, he reveals that it was a childhood friend turned high school girlfriend.
  • In Orange Is the New Black, Rosa is dying of ovarian cancer while in Prison. She is taken to the hospital on a regular basis for chemotherapy treatments. Her doctor says she needs life-saving surgery and gives her three weeks to live if she does not receive the surgery, but the Department of Corrections won't pay for it, and she doesn't have family on the outside that could pay for the treatment. Morello gives her the prison van, so Rosa can at least live out the remainder of her life as a free woman. Rosa runs over Vee, but crashes into a ditch herself and dies.
    Rosa: No one fucks with cancer.
  • In Medical Dramas, Scrubs for example, while cancer is often shown to be horrible, other types of diseases can be shown to be just as bad at times.
  • Superman & Lois: A major plotline in Season 3 is Lois being diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, and how everyone reacts to it.
  • The X-Files:

  • In general, high rates of cancer can be found in the Hard Rock/Heavy Metal scene globally and in Japanese Visual Kei, as a result of often frequent and heavy use of alcohol, Everybody Smokes being in effect until The '90s or the 2000s with lots of ongoing smokers and nicotine users still, the toxicity of secondhand smoke in venues before that was outlawed, the toxicity of vehicles if they were bikers or often traveled by motor vehicle, and the toxicity of makeup and clothing and the like, as well as bad diets for many who were poorer. As a result, HR/HM and Visual Kei have many artists who have died from cancer, but also many survivors of the disease if it was detected early enough/they were lucky/etcetera.
  • David Bowie's final album, , is a whole Concept Album devoted to his diagnosis with liver cancer and his newfound awareness of his mortality; the disease would be diagnosed terminal while Bowie was shooting the music video for "Lazarus" in November of 2015, and he ultimately died two days after the album released at the start of 2016. While Bowie never namedrops his cancer, he invokes the feelings of despondency and self-grief that come with it, speaking about the disease through allegorical rumination.
  • Jason Isbell's "Elephant" is about a man trying to support a friend dying of cancer.
    When she was drunk she made cancer jokes
    Made up her own doctor's notes
    Surrounded by her family, I saw that she was dying alone
    There's one thing that's real clear to me:
    No one dies with dignity
    We just try to ignore the elephant somehow
  • Metallica's Until It Sleeps is about the lead singer's mothers battle with cancer, and the emotional pain of watching it destroy her.
  • Nightwish's Higher Than Hope is about DJ Marc Brueland's battle with cancer.
  • Lou Reed's album Magic and Loss is an entire song cycle about two friends of his who died of cancer.
  • Regina Spektor's "Chemo Limo", about a single mother who can't afford the treatment that probably won't save her anyway, and having an Imagine Spot where the doctor tells her she's fine so she can spend the money on a limo ride with her kids instead.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Amber Diceless Role Playing: If characters with Shape Shifting push themselves beyond their limits while suffering from exhaustion or starvation, they can suffer from Primal Chaos Cancer. Some of their cells run wild, consuming normal cells and multiplying quickly. The rogue cells will eventually attack vital organs, appear on the skin and eat the character alive, turning him into an amorphous blob.
  • Call of Cthulhu supplement The Asylum and Other Tales, adventure "The Asylum". One of the drugs Dr. Freygan uses to create proto-shoggoths is called Cellular Accelerator. It can heal wounds quickly, but there's a chance it will cause cancer throughout the recipient's body. The victim will be reduced to a mass of suppurating flesh within 2-12 days and die 1-3 days later.
  • Dungeons & Dragons's Book of Vile Darkness — a Plaguemaster Prestige Class "cancer mage" gets a sentient tumor as a familiar: the entire idea of the Cancer Mage is that cancer is something disgusting, creepy, and in this case actually, cosmically evil.
  • Hunchback: The Lurching, a fan gameline for the New World of Darkness: As a drinking game, take a shot when the lump is described as "Cancerous", "Malignant" or "Tumorous". Just don't blame us when you lose your liver.
  • In Promethean: The Created, the mysterious sixth Lineage are the "Zeka", Prometheans animated and fueled by radiation that have a lot of disturbing, creepy abilities. Among them are the ability to give other people regular, boring old cancer, but if you want to get freaky, you can give them a tumor with a mouth that can speak to them, or a mind control brain tumor, that is implied to cause endless excruciating pain and leave the victim a helpless puppet with full consciousness but no control over their actions. When Zeka use their powers, their "Disfigurement" usually involves huge cancerous masses growing from within them, boiling, bloating, and pulsating as their skin falls off and their eyes melt. Even when not showing their powers, most of them have signs of radiation poisoning or cancer, such as visible tumors on their faces. Then there are the Carcinoma, which is what you get when Zeka tries to make more of themselves and fail horribly: hideous monstrosities made completely out of cancer, with an alien, incomprehensible, malignant intelligence.
  • In Scion, the Titan of the Blighted Earth, Crom Cruach, nemesis of the Tuatha De Danaan, is associated with stillbirth, madness, fungi, vermin, rot, mutation and cancer, and has a very strong theme of the "perversion of life". His minions, the giant fomorians, are generally horribly disfigured, and their ugliness is said to often include tumors all over their body.
    • 2E allows you to weaponize this with the Fertility purview. One of the powers involves uncontrolled malignant growths. Like tumors. Indeed, the sample text has a Scion use it to give a Minotaur lung cancer.

  • Wit: Perhaps one of the most brutal works on the subject.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Tig Notaro was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, necessitating a double mastectomy. Days after the diagnosis, she performed as she'd been scheduled to but began her set with "Hello, I have cancer. How are you?" Her show became famous for her incredibly matter-of-fact and moving discussion of cancer on top of the other horrors she had endured that year, mixed with the Black Comedy of the absurdity that occurred along with the tragedy.

    Video Games 
  • The Binding of Isaac has a cancerous tumor as a Trinket (passive accessory) that increases your rate of fire. It's actually so beneficial that your character cheers "Yay, cancer!"
  • In BioShock, ADAM works "like a benign cancer", changing native cells into unstable stem versions of themselves. Through a little GMO-ing, it can be used to induce superpowers. The withdrawal symptoms, however, are absolutely nightmarish, including the growth of huge tumors and neurodegeneration into violent insanity.
  • In the original Civilization, developing a Cure for Cancer gave you one happy citizen in every single city, no strings attached.
  • In Darkest Dungeon's Womb Level, you fight parts of the Eldritch Abomination whose body you're invading. These include demonic tumors, cysts, and polyps, with the only actually healthy part of it being its white corpuscles.
  • Once you've reached the final chapters of Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass, you can easily infer that the game is the dreams of Jimmy, a kid who's dying of cancer, which is represented by the Pulsating Mass. The ending story beats revolve around how his family, and especially Jimmy, are dealing with his inevitable death.
  • By the time of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Naomi Hunter — a beloved character who's been with Snake (and the player) all the way since the first game — doesn't just have cancer, she's practically already biologically dead from cancer. It's so bad that mere seconds after she deactivates the nanomachines in her body fighting it, she dies.
  • The page quote comes from Mondo Medicals, in which you help an experimenter find the cure for cancer by... going through 8 disorienting obstacle courses. The experimenter is very passionate about the Topic of Cancer.
  • The creepy biological MacGuffin from Oni, the Chrysalis, is repeatedly described as being like cancer.
  • In Perfect Vermin, it's eventually revealed that Harold is dying of some form of cancer, likely as a result of his smoking habits. It's easy to recontextualize the player's smashing of vermin to chemotherapy.
  • In [PROTOTYPE], Blackwatch uses a sapient, weaponized cancer as a Restraining Bolt to bring Alex down to normal. It's visible as a reddish mass with roots anchoring it to his left shoulder and locks down most of his abilities.
  • In Sacrifice, the Mutants are a tribe of humanoids that are afflicted with a genetically inherited cancerous disease. The goddess Persephone has taken pity on them, and while they aren't cured of it, they have been given resistance to the pain it causes. In return, the Mutants act as Persephone's artillery by ripping out tumors from their bodies and throw them at enemies from long range.
  • StarCraft:
    • Weaponized by the Zerg Defiler. Their signature ability, Plague, coats an area in acid and carcinomas that can reduce anything to 1 HP, even through Deflector Shields. Defilers themselves are said to be "cancer factories", and their prerequisite building, the defiler mound, is little more than a huge tumor. Presumably, this is to showcase that the Zerg are 1. so adaptable that they can even adapt to this and twist it to their advantage; and 2. so utterly nightmarish that they weaponize cancer.
    • The same race also spreads their "Creep", a sort of "rag" of organic matter from which they evolve structures, using "Creep Tumors". In StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, Kerrigen even gets an upgrade for it called "Malignant Creep", which makes it spreads faster and further and Zerg units on it stronger.
  • That Dragon Cancer is pretty much the game of the trope.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace in Space: Enby is a cancer patient whose head is shaven due to chemotherapy, as blog posts show that they formerly had black curls. Fortunately, Zipper is able to help treat it.
  • Claudia Jerusalem from Dies irae ~Interview with Kaziklu Bey~ is revealed pretty early on that she is dying from terminal skin cancer and is given about a month to live. And despite the fact the the cast is riddled by incredibly powerful magical individuals, it is stated that only Mercurius or Rusalka might have the magical know-how to cure something so serious, neither of which are people the main character Wilhelm would ever want to be indebted towards.
  • The protagonist and title character of Melody have both lost their mothers to cancer, and Steve is about to lose his father to cancer.

  • Awful Hospital:
    • A polyp in Fern's leg acts as an obstacle during the Inert Biovessel arc.
    • The Immense Thing is assumed to be made from cancer.
    • Slobs are "greyzoners" (humans/creatures from our neck of The Multiverse) mutated/resurrected by an aggressive, red biomass that acts like cancer on LSD.
    • The Parliament is working on spreading a metaphysical disease that is described as "imagine you can catch an aggressive cancer as easily as you can catch a common cold. Now imagine you can catch it from the sound of a trombone or the color purple". It's implied to be the stuff mutating the slobs.
  • In Homestuck, Karkat (who uses the trolltag carcinoGeneticist and the astrological symbol of cancer) admits to John he may have given John's universe cancer. And it turns out the cancer is Jack Noir. The fact that he is an Anthropomorphic Personification of a cancer sums up his personality.
  • Manly Guys Doing Manly Things: The Commander isn't worried about getting lung cancer from his cigar-smoking habit because in the future where he comes from, everyone apparently has cancer, but by this point, it's become such an integral part of the human experience that the cancers have formed a symbiotic relationship with humans.
    Commander: More like a healin' factor than a disease at that point.
  • This has come up in the 2014-2015 arc of Moon Over June, starting when Summer Winters' routine mammogram becomes vastly less so. The treatment has been odd. With one strip starting with Summer confiding to her housemate Hatsuki how awful the chemotherapy is making her feel and her fears that the double mastectomy was not in time to keep it from spreading, then demanding sex because it is the only way she can cope (it's that kind of webcomic).
  • Although he tried to hide it, Bryce of We Are The Wyrecats eventually reveals that he has a tumor in his brain that will eventually kill him.
  • This trope shows up in more than a few xkcd strips, as Randall Munroe's now-wife had been diagnosed with stage-3 breast cancer during their engagement.

    Web Original 
  • The Autobiography of Jane Eyre: Jane's estranged evil aunt Mrs. Reed has a brain tumor and is dying. In the book, she had a stroke.
  • A Creepypasta entitled simply "Cancer" details cancer treatment in 500 AD. It involves cutting off the infected organ with a blunt hacksaw, drinking poison, and being lit on fire. However, it's got a happy ending, as the main character survives the whole thing.
  • Another Creepypasta, "A Cure for Cancer", has a genius scientist obsessed with curing cancer infect his ex-girlfriend with a bioweapon that causes pancreatic cancer, which he thinks will be easy to cure since he engineered it (under contract by the CIA). The plan goes horribly wrong, as the cancer metastasizes into every single one of her organs. He remembers one of his proposed cures, which uses stem cells to remap the circulatory system, starving the tumors. This is a bust, however, since he can't get enough stem cells or funding (nobody wants to deal with the ethical ramifications of rendering down feti for them, so he makes a test-tube baby and grows it inside some kind of animal). The disease and cure react strangely, turning her into a zombie-like creature made entirely from cancer.
  • Played for Laughs in How to Write Badly Well. One technique suggested is "Emphasize Your Villain's Bad Qualities". It stars a Mad Scientist bent on curing leukemia, not for the good of mankind, but to put oncologists out of business and stopping survivors' memoirs from being written.
  • Mortasheen:
    • Played for Laughs; one option for a lawn is cancer-based Meat Moss.
    • The monsters Tyrannitoma and Tumorman weaponize cancer in two separate ways: Tyrannitomas are polyp-like creatures who convert any creature they're attached to into a huge, sapient humanoid tumor with fantastic strength, and Tumormen weaponize an aggressive form of skin cancer.

    Western Animation 
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force: "Party All the Time" is a surprisingly sad and serious episode where Frylock discovers the mole on his face has turned malignant, and his friends Meatwad and Master Shake try to support his struggles with skin cancer.
  • Archer had an arc in which Archer got cancer. This was the only time in the series that Archer actually took the danger he was in seriously and seemed legitimately worried that he was going to die.
  • An episode of Arthur had the school's lunch lady reveal that she had cancer. Significant in that a kids' show addressed it so openly.
  • In Harley Quinn (2019), when cornered by some thugs in Wayne Tower, Harley grabbed the closest thing to her that looked like a weapon and shot one of them with it. To everyone's confusion, nothing appeared to happen, until Harley found out to her horror that it was an experimental cancer ray. Distraught, the goon chose to quit his life of crime right then and there to spend his remaining time with his family. Harley threw the gun away in disgust, demanding to know who would even make such an awful weapon.
  • South Park:
    • Discussed in the episode "Tonsil Trouble". Of course, they have activists claim that just having AIDS is way better than having cancer.
    • There's the episode "Breast Cancer Show Ever".
  • Robot Chicken has a sketch where Scooby-Doo ends up sniffing out a lump in Velma's breast, but after some consideration, the tumor is surgically removed just in time, leading to it uttering a certain phrase.
  • In one episode of The Venture Bros., Brock interrogates one of Baron Ünderbheit's henchmen by grabbing his testicles and squeezing them. He quickly stops after feeling a lump and is rather hesitant to admit it to the Henchman. The henchman is devastated, and despite earlier resistance to the interrogation gives up the info as he admits he doesn't care anymore about the job and just wants to tell his wife.


Video Example(s):


Brock Samson Finds a Lump

While attempting to interrogate a Mook via attacking his testicles on the location of Baron Underbheit's wedding, Brock Samson only manages to end up demoralized when he finds a lump.

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Example of:

Main / TheTopicOfCancer

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