The challenge was daunting: “showing the disease in a science museum, putting our nose to a dark part of our humanity that we don’t want to see”, confides Maud Gouy, co-curator of the exhibition at the poster from September 6, 2022 to August 8, 2023, in partnership with the National Cancer Institute (INCa).

But cancer, a major national cause, “affects us all, from near or far”, argues the public establishment: today, nearly four million people are living or have had the experience of cancer in France, where for 30 years, the overall number of new cases has been increasing (but mortality is decreasing).

“Cancers is the first major exhibition dedicated to the disease, with the ambition to explore its different facets to look this monster in the face, and break taboos, without being anxiety-provoking or watering down the subject”, explains Laurence Caunézil, co-curator.

On 600 square meters, cancers (because there are no two identical cancers, insists the Cité des sciences) are approached from a scientific, medical, societal and even political angle.

An unexpected installation greets the visitor at the entrance: a large crab (“cancer” means “crab” in Latin) teaches us that it is a biological phenomenon that appeared 500 million years ago with the emergence of the first organisms unicellular. In short, that it is inherent to the living.

Then the route invites you to wander from room to room in an intimate scenography, according to factual and educational audiovisual installations. Nothing “fun”, the establishment did not wish to “play” with the disease. The exhibition is also recommended only from the age of 14.

– “Where do you get away with it” –

Lying under a dome, you can learn about carcinogenesis, the genetic process at work in the formation of malignant tumors which finds its origin in a DNA mutation.

Understand the difference between a scanner, an MRI, a PET-Scan. Discover research on the treatments of the future, such as that on fibroblasts, cells likely to improve the response to immunotherapy. Or the work on the social and geographical disparities of cancer, a “political disease” to which certain populations are more exposed than others, as the asbestos and chlordecone cases have shown.

The exhibition makes a useful point on prevention, “without making the public feel guilty”, according to Maud Gouy.

With at its heart testimonials from patients, caregivers and carers, many of which are poignant and above all give hope. “It’s not because we have metastatic cancer that we are screwed, a recurrence of the colon with metastasis to the liver is curable”, says thus, facing the camera, a man suffering from a colorectal tumor.

“Cancer does not mean death right away, many get away with it and it must be said”, reacted Alexandra Mariez, 36, suffering from triple negative breast cancer, invited to the press visit of the exposure. Creator of the Instagram account “Allons-y prevention” and ambassador of the Geneticancer association, she believes that talking about cancers in the plural is essential because “it means taking into consideration all the people concerned”.

Mélanie Hannouche, 43, who also went through this ordeal, welcomes the scale of the project. “When I received the invitation from the Cité des sciences and saw that the exhibition was going to last ten months, I said to myself that we were finally going to talk about it to the general public!”, says the founder of the “Skin, post-cancer account” association.

Because “outside of social networks, broaching the subject is extremely taboo among young people”, regrets this interior decorator, who today produces portraits of women in turbans in hospitals to “change the look” on the disease .