A Biography of Cancer – The Emperor of All Maladies

I have been meaning to read Siddhartha Mukherjee‘s The Emperor of All Maladies ever since it was released in 2010. However, the morbid subject matter made me pushing it back on my reading list. But over the years, I have come to hear about a new cancer case atleast once a week on an average, sometimes more and today was no exception. And inspite of the scariness that the name of the disease festers, this book could no longer be left unread.

The book traces the history of Cancer from BC era when the disease reportedly was documented for the first time and thereafter, unravels it’s progress through the recorded history. The author has interspersed his own cases and the emotions he experiences throughout the narrative. The slow progress of finding a cure and a slower progress in understanding the genesis of the disease is detailed out taking the readers through the almost breakthroughs and then the setbacks. An average reader or human being considers cancer as a disease to be homogenous, but the book helps you understand how the anatomy of a cancer is different for each tumour and how it even changes as the disease progresses. While the book is not very technical for a non-medical reader to understand, but the complex history and the frequent back and forth makes it a slow reading at least in the middle. Even the numerous cast of characters, like in any blockbuster, primarily of doctors, epidemiologists and other researchers makes it a heavy and complex reading. Inspite of this, it is a definitive book on this dreaded disease for all the readers who are interested in going beyond what they read in newspapers or watch on TV.

The pace of discoveries in the understanding of Cancer and better treatments between 1980s to 2010 when the book was published is due to the perseverance and resilience of the medical fraternity against this war on Cancer. And the advances in medical technology since then makes one hope that maybe this war can be won in future if not wholly then substantially. Marriage of medicine with digital technology, specifically, Artificial Intelligence can hopefully lead to better diagnosis and treatment of the disease. There are early successes in diagnosis of some forms of Cancer using Deep Learning techniques. And targeted immunotherapy as well as personalisation of treatment will most likely help people with lesser side-effects and thereby, better quality of life for the cancer patients as well as their relatives.

And maybe, it is time for an updated edition of this book for readers to know as well as understand the new discoveries in this dreaded world of Cancer – truly the Emperor of All Maladies!

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