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The INCan and its Tumor Bank


In this photo essay I want to show what kind of institution is INCan. I reconstruct, through my daily ethnographic observations, small images of the experiences that I observed and lived in the hospital and its surroundings. I also show the contrast between these images and the operation of INCan and the Tumor Bank.

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tumor bank

The First mexican tumor bank

The National Institute of Cancelorogy (INCan is the Spanish acronym) is one of the most important institutions of the Mexican national health system. Its objective is to treat cancer patients from all over the country, especially those without health insurance. Two towers connected by a bridge house one of the largest and best equipped research hospitals in Mexico, focused on researching and treating cancer. The towers stand out in the urban landscape south of the city, in the so-called “hospital zone”, on San Fernando Avenue # 22. Close to 1640 people (between patients and patient relatives) arrive at INcan daily.

hospital zone

The hospital zone in Mexico City

Three important road axes, Insurgentes, Anillo periférico and Viaducto Tlalpan, surround the hospital zone. Despite the proximity to these roads, none of the city's mass transportation systems, such as the Metro (subway) or the recently established Metrobus (exclusive-lane bus service) have a station close Av. San Fernando # 22. The lack of mass transportation leads to constant traffic jams in the area, forcing patients using mouth covers and/or even wheelchairs to move between running cars to get to the hospital.



The large amount of people that circulate daily in the hospital zone creates a kind of micro city with its own micro-economic system. The narrow sidewalks around INCan host a large number of food carts, peddlers and flower sellers. A few meters from the front door of the new INCAN tower, in front of a small construction that serves as short-term garbage dump for nearby food street sellers, a man sells scarves to cover the bald heads of the women who lost their hair during chemotherapy. These scenes contrast with the clean and neat laboratory rooms of the tumor bank on the third floor of the new INCan hospitalization tower, where the staff watches a pathologist trying to identify a tumor in a uterus, ovary, intestine or kidney.

Succes story

Success story

The work carried out by the tumor bank is crucial for accomplishing the promise made by the Incan’s director and displayed on posters throughout the building: “El cancer, hoy un reto, mañana una historia de éxito” (Cancer, today a challenge, tomorrow a success story).


The tumor bank, which stores almost 5000 samples taken from cancer patients, is located on the third floor of the new hospitalization tower. Two white, clean and neat rooms contain several refrigerators, a thermocycler, a nitrogen tank and a perfectly clean fume hood. A constant noise from the air ventilation system and the refrigerators seem to isolate the place and the staff from the noisy street, where recordings of evangelical pastors blaring out salvation messages mix with the suggestive calls from taco sellers inviting the people to sit and taste their products.

Going down from the third floor to the ground floor, people in white coats get lost among people without coats. In the central hall to the left there are two waiting rooms, one for emergencies and the other for people waiting to see their sick relatives. In the morning, this room is usually filled by sitting people who look extremely tired, some of them lying down and others dozing; they probably spend the night sitting and covered with blankets due to the cold temperatures.


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