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

4.2 out of 5 stars 97 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 (97 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #456,603 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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10 Comments 112 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Kindle Edition
This book is a realistic (even pessimistic) take on cancer research and the elusive quest for a cure. The main points put forward in the book should be matter of an intense public debate. Unfortunately many people have an interest (pecuniary or otherwise) in hiding or blurring them.

I'd summarize the main points as follows:

1. Cancer is not a disease. It is a process. "You don't have cancer. You are cancering".

2. Cancer is a tragic (but predictable) consequence of entropy.

3. Cancer is as old as multicellular life. Signs of cancerous tumors have been found in fossils of dinosaurs, birds, hominids, etc.

4. Cancer doesn't come from (in any significant measure) from the poisonous actions of unregulated corporations.

5. Metasthasic cancer doesn't have a cure. Big pharma has been more successful in selling false hopes than in extending the lives of cancer patients. The impact of even the most advanced medicines is still measured in weeks, not in years.

6. Universal screening is also questionable. The cost-benefit of mammograms and PSA, for example, is dubious. To say the least.

7. Cancer research is not underfunded. Billions of dollars are spent annually in the US, Europe and elsewhere in the hope of a definitive breakthrough that has not happened yet and won't happen soon.

8. Smoking and lack of physical activity are consistently associated with cancer (through various pahtways, direct and indirect).

9. Cancer and socioeconomic progress go hand in hand. Cancer is associated with longer lives, better nourishment, obesity, and so on.

10. Modern health systems are affected by the tyranny of hope (to use Katy Butler's felicitous expression).
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