Books To Get You Thinking

Finding a cure for cancer remains one of the most daunting challenges in the history of medicine. An inextricably complex disease rooted in the genetic makeup of a human cell, cancer has so far defied the massive and concerted efforts by scientists and physicians to find a cure. The disease has existed through the centuries, necessitating constant evolution of the treatments and drugs developed to fight it. Today, with longer life expectancies, the incidence of cancer has increased worldwide, touching almost one in three women and one in two men in the United States alone. There are recent books and multimedia available at the Mercer County Library that provide a deeper understanding of the science behind cancer as well as a history of this devastating disorder. Different authors bring their own perspective to the discussions and debates on how we need to counter this invasive disease.

Cancer: Emperor of all Maladies
Cancer: The Emperor of all Maladies
A riveting six-hour scientific and investigative documentary recently aired by PBS has been produced by Ken Burns and Barak Goodman. The film is based on the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer written by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, an oncologist and professor at the Cancer Center, Columbia University that has quickly become the definitive guide to understanding the various historic, political and scientific facets of the disease. Both the book and the film document the history of cancer from ancient medical practices to current breakthroughs in genomic research and novel therapies. The film examines social attitudes, as well as the political and economic ramifications of the newly emerging cancer treatments. Using actual case studies, the film provides perspectives from different physicians and scientists as well as from patients about the transformative impact cancer has had on their lives, and of the hope and despair that is intrinsically interwoven into the lives of cancer victims and survivors . Viewers are carried through the trajectory of time, following the research, breakthroughs and setbacks that have shaped our ability to pursue prevention, treatment and cure on an individual and national scale in the fight against cancer.

P53: The Gene That Cracked the Cancer Code
P53: The Gene That Cracked the Cancer Code by Sue Armstrong
British science journalist Sue Armstrong provides an informative, lucid account of the science behind cancer and the long journey of research and discoveries that have increased our understanding of why the disease occurs and why it is so difficult to control. This book focuses on one of several breakthrough discoveries: the isolation of the p53 gene, recognized as one of the most significant events in unraveling the mystery of cancer onset and proliferation. The p53 gene is classified as a tumor repressor gene and plays a critical role in conserving cellular stability by repairing DNA damage . The human body is composed of millions of cells that are constantly dividing to replenish our tissues and systems. If the DNA of a cell gets damaged, the p53 gene steps in to restore the balance by orchestrating a fight to eliminate the negative impact of the mutated genes. However, if for some reason the p53 gene gets mutated, then the opportunity to repair the DNA damage is lost. A newly mutated cell can start replicating at a rapid pace, leading to the growth of malignant tumors. The p53 gene is one of the most widely studied genes in molecular biology, as it is the common denominator in all forms of cancer. It also plays a significant role in aging, stress response, immune system and cellular metabolism. The author traces the massive collaborative efforts of hundreds of scientists and the long road that led to the discovery of the p53 gene, while acknowledging the many questions that still remain unanswered.

The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine’s Deepest Mystery
The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine’s Deepest Mystery by George Johnson.
George Johnson, a journalist and prolific science writer, examines cancer through two different lenses. He narrates his own personal experiences supporting his wife Nancy in her battle with uterine cancer, providing a window into the physical toll and mental ordeal that the disease often takes on cancer patients and their families. At another level, his wife’s diagnosis spurred Johnson to do comprehensive research, providing readers with a sweeping view of what we know about cancer as well as questions that remain to be answered. A fossilized dinosaur bone, one hundred and fifty million years ago showing a cancerous tumor reveals that cancer is a disease that has been with us since the beginning of time. Delving into the many commonly cited causal elements such as carcinogens in food, water and air, or exposure to certain chemicals, Johnson notes that no compelling proof exists that such factors would lead to developing cancer. The same holds true for some frequently suggested correlations between cancer prevention and compounds in certain foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, green tea and coffee. For Johnson, the origins of cancer are entrenched in the nature of life itself, “a phenomenon in which a cell begins dividing out of control and accumulating genetic damage.”

-Nita Mathur

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