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Cancer: The Evolutionary Legacy [Paperback]

Mel Greaves
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 21, 2002 0192628348 978-0192628343 1
Every day, 1500 Americans die of cancer, and yet for most of us this deadly disease remains mysterious. Why is it so common? Why are there so many different causes? Why does treatment so often fail? What, ultimately, is cancer? In this fascinating new book, a leading cancer researcher offers general readers clear and convincing answers to these and many other questions.
Mel Greaves places cancer in its evolutionary context, arguing that we can best answer the big questions about cancer by looking through a Darwinian lens. Drawing on both ancient and more modern evolutionary legacies, he shows how human development has changed the rules of evolutionary games, trapping us in a nature-nurture mismatch. Compelling examples, from the King of Naples intestinal tumor in the 15th century, through the epidemic of scrotal skin cancer in 18th-century chimney sweeps, to the current surge of cases of prostate cancer illustrate his thesis. He also shows why the old paradigms of infectious diseases or genetic disorders have proved fruitless when trying to explain this complex and elusive disease. And finally, he looks at the implications for research, prevention, and treatment of cancer that an evolutionary perspective provides.
Drawing on the most recent research, this is the first book to put cancer in its evolutionary framework. At a time when Darwinian perspectives on everything from language acquisition to economics are providing new breakthroughs in understanding, medicine seems to have much to gain from the insights provided by evolutionary biology. Written in an exceptionally lucid and entertaining style, this book will be of broad interest to all those who wish to know more about this dread disease.

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Nothing can scare us quite as much as cancer. This disease, striking sometimes sensibly, sometimes arbitrarily, inspires despair and hopelessness to the same extent that its cure eludes us. Cancer researcher Mel Greaves illuminates what we know of its causes and the obstacles to research in Cancer: The Evolutionary Legacy. The subtitle is intriguing, and Greaves backs it up with a detailed examination of the evolutionary biology of cancer cells. It turns out that we can profitably think about cancer as a tool in the struggle for survival and reproduction among all the cells within a body. Losing regulatory genes might be great for reproducing individual cell lines, but in the long run, they are, of course, devastating to the organism as a whole. Greaves's personal, almost chatty style helps the nontechnical reader through some of the complicated immunological and genetic issues, and it also humanizes a topic that can easily overwhelm us with awe. Slipping back a few centuries, he explores the history of cancer and our attitudes toward it, then looks at how it has changed in recent years to become more widespread and better understood. Though Greaves is careful not to promise a cure just around the corner, his experience lends the writing an optimism that most readers will find refreshing. Though we're still at the mercy of this terrible disease, it's good to know we have more than just natural selection on our side. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Setting forth a novel Darwinian theory of the origin of cancer, Greaves contends that cancer's development is a bizarre yet remarkably close parody of species diversification in evolution, embodying the basic ground rules of random genetic diversification and selection for survival, as cells that are driven by mutant genes that ignore signals to restrain their aggressive growth take over and cannibalize bodily systems. Director of the Leukemia Research Fund Center at London's Institute of Cancer Research, Greaves rejects the widespread view that the 20th century's cancer epidemic is due to environmental pollutants, chemicals, pesticides and manmade radiation. Instead, he insists that all cancers arise from a mix of causes, such as naturally occurring and synthetic toxins, chronic stress, overexposure to sunlight, cigarette smoking, gamma rays, DNA-damaging viruses, poor diet and spontaneous physiological changes caused by aging. Pursuing his Darwinian tack, Greaves also comes up with some maverick hypotheses about the causes of breast and prostate cancer. The good news, he says, is that 90% of modern cancers are preventable. Besides recommending changes in diet and lifestyle, he envisions advances in genetic screening to allow identification of the mutant genes that signal escalating malignancy. Though technical at times, Greaves's clean prose and historical asides make this book accessible to the general reader. 20 illus.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (March 21, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192628348
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192628343
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 6.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,674,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new perspective on cancer May 21, 2000
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Greaves does an excellent job of explaining how evolution applies to cancer. How did cancer survive throughout evolution? How do cancer cells go through a Darwinian process of survival of the fittest? How are some cells resistant to chemotherapy? He answers all of these.
He also points out that, contrary to popular opinion, in many cases, it is impossible to point to a single "cause" for a person's cancer. People want to point blame somewhere, but cancer takes a series of DNA mutations to get going in a cell. This may happen over a lifetime of exposure to various things.
All in all, very good for anybody who is interested in this topic -- and perhaps even if you don't think you are.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough discussion made interesting September 9, 2001
Format:Hardcover
Dr. Greaves does a great job of navigating the myths, evolution, paradoxes, and treatments of cancer. The amazing accomplishment of this author is that he can do all this while keeping the lay person interested, even injecting some humor. What other cancer researcher would first detail the high incidence of cancer of the esophagus in the Hubei province of China, then discuss how that same diet causes cancer in their chickens and end the discussion saying "Not unambiguous evidence maybe, but if I was a chicken, I would ask for a transfer."
All is not lighthearted, of course, in a discussion of cancer. The interesting mosaic which Greaves creates discusses the varied alleged causes of various types of cancer, including social, demographic, economic, dietary, and of course hereditary. He then gives an excellent argument for the prevention rather than cure of cancers. For example, he states that for "every 1,000 young men adopting a life time habit of smoking, on average one will be murdered, six will die in road traffic accidents and 250 will die ot tobacco-related deaths including lung cancer." Sobering statistics for the deadly life decision to keep this habit.
If you have any interest in cancer, read this book. Be prepared to work through some jargon, but with Greaves writing style, you'll enjoy the read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, is by far a better read this one. save you money and in vest in Mukherjee work you wont regret it, its really good.
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4.0 out of 5 stars excellent! March 1, 2011
Format:Paperback
Hi, I am a pediatrician who loves reading books by doctor-writers. I almost finished The Emperor of All Maladies, but then switched to this book, and this book has fascinated me and I think it does a really good job explaining WHY cancer happens! I highly recommend it for anyone who is puzzled with why we have to have cancers. . .
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The book is too technical for me as a lay person. June 10, 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book is too technical for me as a lay person. I believe a person in the medical field would enjoy it very much. I would not recommend it to my friends. Our son is battling leukemia at the present time and it didn't answer the questions I had.
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