Abstract This paper examines cancer discourse as a case study of the social construction of biomedicine. According to medical historians, cancer has long been associated with women. During the 19th century, there were renewed efforts to classify cancerous tumours. Through an analysis of British 19th century medical literature, I explore the intersections between gender ideologies and cancer classifications. My findings indicate that historical associations between women and cancer informed early cancer classifications. In the mid-19th century, when scientific advances challenged these models, British surgeons incorporated new aspects of prevailing gender ideologies suggesting a biomedical commitment to view cancer in gendered terms.