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The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine's Deepest Mystery 1st Edition

95 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0307595140
ISBN-10: 0307595145
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. It's his wife Nancy's grueling fight against a rare and rabid uterine cancer that prompts science writer Johnson (The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments) to delve into the efforts to study, treat, and beat what Siddhartha Mukherjee dubbed The Emperor of All Maladies. This elegant and insightful chronicle is at once intensely personal and meticulously studious, focusing not just on one cancer, but on the evolution of all cancers. He finds it comforting... knowing that cancer has always been with us, that it is not all our fault, that you can take every precaution and still something in the genetic coils can become unsprung. Cancer, he explains, can be blamed on factors that have been present for a long time (the disease beset even prehistoric dinosaurs). In fact, researchers are finding that any one case of cancer may have multiple causes, whether environmental, hereditary, or elusive… bad luck. Cancer, he concludes, is a phenomenon that is mostly random. Yet we are getting a clearer picture of how it works: cancer's metabolic puzzle may lie in how the body stores and uses energy… Insulin, estrogen, obesity, cancer—all are tied in to the same metabolic knot. This is extraordinary scholarship delivered with an intimate poignancy. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM. (Aug. 30)

From Booklist

Science writer Johnson (The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, 2008) tackles cancer on a technical and personal level. He concludes that “cancer is a disease of information.” Although a single renegade cell can kindle a tumor, that cell still has hurdles to overcome—avoiding apoptosis (programmed cell death) and growing its own blood supply (angiogenesis). Cancers can be caused by chemicals, radiation, and viruses, but certain behaviors are instigators, too. Tobacco use accounts for as many as 30 percent of cases. A sedentary lifestyle and obesity increase your chances of the disease. Dinosaurs with malignancies, rebellious mitochondria, and other attention-grabbing characters populate the book. Sadly fascinating are the rare medical personnel who’ve accidentally inoculated themselves with cancer cells and acquired the disease (including a woman who developed colon cancer in her hand). Johnson’s discussion of the science of cancer is entwined with two tales of loss. Despite aggressive treatment, his youngest brother dies from cancer of the head and neck. His wife is diagnosed with uterine cancer and recovers, but their 17-year marriage ends. --Tony Miksanek

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (August 27, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307595145
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307595140
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #514,548 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By J. Green VINE VOICE on July 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Science-writer George Johnson and his wife heard three words that changed their lives - "you've got cancer" - when she was diagnosed with a metastatic uterine form of the disease. As a result, Johnson embarked on a quest to learn everything he could about cancer and has written an interesting overview of what is known, which turns out to be less than you might hope. Cancer is not one disease but many and has been around a long time, and evidence of different cancers have even been found in dinosaur fossils. In fact, it has been with mankind as long as we've been around, but if it seems to be increasing it's only because we're living longer. With some cruel exceptions, cancer is mostly a disease of older people but, beyond age, the only other reliable factors that can be said to cause cancer are smoking and obesity.

If you're looking for a positive, upbeat, "let's beat Cancer!" kind of book, this probably isn't it. Johnson says that while we've made significant strides, our understanding of why it happens and how to treat it still has a long way to go. He points out that studies are frequently flawed and inconclusive, and recommendations that eating fruits and vegetables or any particular food will help prevent cancer do not hold up under more rigorous testing. There is some correlation that exercise and maintaining a healthy body and diet helps, but the benefits are often small and disputed. And as he discusses the effects of drinking water tainted with chemical pollutants he illustrates very well why it is so difficult to *prove* causation. Even if a specific chemical or activity can be linked to a 30% increase in cancer (which sounds very dramatic), if your odds were only 1.2% in the beginning it only translates to new odds of 1.
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107 of 129 people found the following review helpful By SInohey TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I was eager to read this book because, as a surgeon, I am always searching for new information,fresh ideas and innovative techniques in the management of cancer.

I read the 280+ pages of The Cancer Chronicles hoping maybe to discover a new treatment, or a novel approach or cutting edge therapy to combat this vicious disease that has plagued all living creatures since life began on earth. Tumors have been found in fossils of dinosaurs.
Sadly I found nothing new; the promised "explosive new ideas" touted by the publicity hype were neither new nor explosive, but just fizzled. Most of it was common routine knowledge in the medical field. On page 17, I learned that "mammals appear to get more cancer than reptiles or fish. Domesticated animals seem to get more cancer than their cousins in the wild. And people get the most cancer of all." It is a great piece of information with which to stomp your friends at trivia.
Even some information was inaccurate; the author confuses the function of free radicals with antioxidants.

The book touches on the genesis of cancer, mostly unknown except for a few causative relationships such as smoking and environmental hazards (Eg. asbestos) associated with mainly with lung cancers. It correctly challenges the myths of unproven causal links between cancer, the environment or diet. Many studies are inconclusive, flawed or biased.
Screening tests like mammograms, PSA and CA 125 are not specific or sensitive enough for an absolute diagnosis and often result in a false positive, leading to unnecessary, often radical, treatment. Ideally, early diagnosis and treatment lead to cure; best examples of screening are Pap smears and colonoscopy that can detect pre-cancerous lesions and allow early therapy.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By J. FELLA VINE VOICE on July 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Having had cancer myself when I was 21, I've been devouring every bit of info on health, nutrition, and cancer since then. This book certainly tackles things fairly comprehensively and brings up issues and viewpoints I never thought of, or heard. He talks about why many previous studies were flawed or nearly useless, and how new studies will remedy those errors.

Ironically, the chapter on metabolism and cancer was the one I was looking forward to the most, but turned out to be the most disappointing. He does mention Gary Taubes' excellent book "Good Calories, Bad Calories" and some of the statistics he uncovered involving hunter-gatherer societies and their low-carb diets allowing those cultures to live without many western diseases. He says it makes sense, but then doesn't go into ANY examination or review of any studies, statistics, etc. He only says that, at this point, fat-storage, diabetes, and insulin levels are one of the few significant dietary factors we have to go on.

He also makes a very strange comment about free radicals. He says people would never want to completely get rid of free radicals, because they are actually a good thing. He says they are the bodies garbage collector and keep toxins from building up. It sounds like he's describing anti-oxidants, not free radicals. I have never, in my years of reading about this subject, ever heard anyone say free radicals were in any way positive.

Still, this book has some surprising revelations and I can almost guarantee you will be thinking differently about cancer when you're finished.
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