Sunday, December 29, 2019

Thoughts on Mukherjee's Emperor of All Maladies: Learned about the science of cancer & many of its personalities (finally know who Dana & Farber were!)

I had heard that The Emperor of All Maladies – written by award-winning oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee – is a “must-read” about cancer. I was not disappointed. The book is fascinating, examining all aspects of the disease in the framework of a broad story arc. Mukherjee did an excellent job interspersing captivating language and vignettes – such as a quote from Susan Sontag about illness being the dark side of life – with science and history on an all-important disease.

The book provides a comprehensive history of cancer, beginning from its first identification by the Greeks (as “oncos” ) to the present. The detailed descriptions of the development of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery treatments were engrossing. I was struck by the importance of blood cancers for the development of the first chemotherapeutic agents, as well as the importance of surgeons such as William Halsted in devising various ways to remove tumors.

I was interested to learn about the early work on epidemiology and prevention in relation to lung cancer. Richard Doll and Austin Bradford Hill pioneered a new approach to epidemiological statistics to link cigarette smoking and cancer. These researchers deserve high praise for making this critical link and changing the field of epidemiology.

Mukherjee also discusses other aspects of cancer, including the development of a massive apparatus for cancer funding with institutions such as the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund, and how these came together successfully to raise millions of dollars to fight the disease.

The only thing I felt the book was missing was a section describing how recent developments in cancer immunotherapy fit into the whole discussion. Nonetheless, I whole-heartedly recommend the book. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (8580001040431): Siddhartha Mukherjee: Books