Views & Reviews Medical classics

Cancer Ward

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 27 September 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:673
  1. Paul Crichton, consultant psychiatrist, London
  1. paulcrichton{at}

    The semi-autobiographical novel Cancer Ward is set in a cancer hospital in the Soviet province of Uzbekistan in the late 1950s. Like Solzhenitsyn, the main character, Oleg Kostoglotov (“bone chewer”) spends some years in the Gulag, is sentenced to perpetual exile in Kazakhstan, becomes ill with cancer, is treated in a cancer clinic, and makes a good recovery. The book describes the profound effects that the experience of labour camps, exile, and then cancer can have on an individual.

    Cancer Ward is meant to be understood as a political allegory—tumours kill, so how can a country survive with “growths” like …

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