Health, Risk & Society | 17 September, 2019
HPV-associated anal cancer is one of the most prevalent non-AIDS defining cancers affecting gay men living with HIV. Drawing on interviews with 25 HIV-positive gay men living in Toronto in 2017, we explored their responses to anal cancer as a comorbidity risk and the necessity of preventative screening. These participants had previously been screened for anal cancer through a clinical trial. The majority of our sample did not initially consider anal cancer a health priority. They relied on narratives of living with HIV – that is, on their HIV biographies – to make sense of anal cancer’s significance given their self-described lack of knowledge. This included references to personal-level narratives of the biographical disruption and revision associated with a HIV diagnosis, as well as reflections on community-level and socio-historical trends in the HIV epidemic. Drawing on these narratives, some started to accept anal cancer as a significant comorbidity risk, while others remained ambivalent. Those who began to accept anal cancer as significant integrated it into their HIV biographies to present anal cancer as a threat to the ontological security they have gained managing HIV in an era of effective treatment and to position themselves as pragmatic, responsible health-seekers. Others drew on their HIV biographies to vocalise resistance to chronic risk and medicalisation. Our analysis points to the fundamental role narratives play on everyday risk perception practices, health decision-making and, for those managing a chronic illness, on securing ontological security and presenting a coherent self-identity under conditions of expanding risks and prevention possibilities.