11 June 2011

Last for the Science Book Challenge

Today I finished The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. It won the Pulitzer for non-fiction last year.

It is an engrossing book. Mukherjee weaves stories of his real patients in with the history of cancer, going all the way back to Imhotep, the Egyptian doctor (and star of The Mummy movies) who described breast cancer way back in the 27th century BC. He describes the search for causes and how our knowledge of the disease's workings grew. Originally, the only treatment that existed was surgical so if you had any sort that couldn't be cut out there was almost no hope. As medicine advanced through the early 20th century first radiation then chemotherapies became part of the oncologists weaponry. But without a real working knowledge of the process of cancer much of the treatment was to delay death by months. Often, scientists were stymied by the lack of communication between specialties. more Recently, there have been some great discoveries but even more the realization that cancer isn't one disease. not only are the different types of cancer (breast, pancreas, colon, etc) very different from each other, depending on the specific mutations two people with the cancer in the same body part may have vastly different treatment options.

I kinda expected this book to be a downer, and parts were, but nothing made me cry. I actually feel a bit more optimistic about my own health situation. I'm fine! There is very little cancer in my family on both sides so my genetic predilection for cancer should be rather low. And at the rate therapies are improving, many cancers may become something you live with rather than die from. This book gets a 6 from me and is my last book for the Science Book Challenge!

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