On the Cancer Frontier: One Man, One Disease, and a Medical Revolutionby Paul Marks, James Sterngold
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In 1950, a diagnosis of cancer was all but a death sentence. Mortality rates only got worse, and as late as 1986, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine lamented: We are losing the war against cancer.” Cancer is one of humankind’s oldest and most persistent enemies; it has been called the existential disease.
But we are now entering a new, and more positive, phase in this long campaign. While cancer has not been curedand a cure may elude us for a long time yetthere has been a revolution in our understanding of its nature. Years of brilliant science have revealed how this individualistic disease seizes control of the foundations of lifeour genesand produces guerrilla cells that can attack and elude treatments. Armed with those insights, scientists have been developing more effective weapons and producing better outcomes for patients. Paul A. Marks, MD, has been a leader in these efforts to finally control this devastating disease.
Marks helped establish the strategy for the war on cancer” in 1971 as a researcher and member of President Nixon’s cancer panel. As the president and chief executive officer for nineteen years at the world’s pre-eminent cancer hospital, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, he was instrumental in ending the years of futility. He also developed better therapies that promise a new era of cancer containment. Some cancers, like childhood leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, that were once deadly conditions, are now survivableeven curable. New steps in prevention and early diagnosis are giving patients even more hope. On the Cancer Frontier is Marks’ account of the transformation in our understanding of cancer and why there is growing optimism in our ability to stop it.
Blending biography and medical history, Marks, former head of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and journalist Sterngold, deliver a sobering panorama of cancer research and treatment. "The truth is that basic research has been the engine for most of the successes in the war on cancer," they write, warning that "finding a single ‘cure' for all cancers is unlikely." As a medical student in 1948, Marks was devastated by the loss of a young leukemia patient, but in 1971 the nation declared a "war" on cancer and at Sloan-Kettering, Marks helped lead the charge, backing "novel methods for treating both the disease and the whole patient," introducing a "day hospital" and psychological services. He emphasizes the importance of "serious science" to understand and treat cancer, including the fascinating evolution of a drug that "brought a patient back from the dead" yet was "too weak" to help in most cancers. "I do not think we will ever eliminate the disease so long as cells replicate and we are exposed to the environmental and biological ‘insults' that can cause genetic abnormalities," Marks writes. Nevertheless, this survey illustrates a doctor's determination to fight for scientific and medical victories that will extend life and hope. (Mar.)
“In this boldly presented argument, written with the assistance of Wall Street Journal senior business writer Sterngold, Marks passionately explains how best to pursue a course of action to control cancer’s tenacity. Cancer is protean, individualistic, complex, elusive and efficient On a level with Lewis Thomas for its clarity and verve in presenting the science of the cell and the ability of cancer to assume multiple guises.” Kirkus starred review
“It is the story behind the science that makes this book a compelling read, even for non-boffins, who can rely on good metaphors to decipher the jargon... Dr Marks’s fascinating journey through the world of cancer research.”The Economist
“This well-written, often dramatic book about the nation’s second-largest killer is a cross between memoir and cancer history book
A good addition to the growing number of engaging titles about this disease.”Booklist
Former Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center president and CEO Marks delivers a panoramic view of developments in cancer research and treatment over the last 40 years, from both the researchers' and administrators' perspectives. In this boldly presented argument, written with the assistance of Wall Street Journal senior business writer Sterngold (Burning Down the House: How Greed, Deceit, and Bitter Revenge Destroyed E.F. Hutton, 1990), Marks passionately explains how best to pursue a course of action to control cancer's tenacity. Cancer is protean, individualistic, complex, elusive and efficient. "The truth," writes the author, "uncomfortable and inconvenient as it may be, is that medical science has never faced a more inscrutable, more mutable, or more ruthless adversary." Thus, understanding its biology, as well as its ability to shape-shift between patients, is vital, and we must also remember that as long as cell division is how we propagate and survive, cancers will develop, for that, too, is how they work. It's not surprising that Marks calls cancer "the existential illness." This excellent elementary grounding in cancer's workings allows readers to appreciate the importance of, say, the differences between empirical and mechanistic methods of developing treatments; why seemingly random advances in molecular biology and genetics are potentially valuable ("basic research has been the engine for most of the successes in the war on cancer"); why flexibility in research is critical to its creativity and innovation; and why a close coordination between the lab and the clinic, the diagnostic and therapeutic programs, researchers and doctors, is so essential. Marks also interweaves his own story into the changes in cancer medicine: his particular research interests against the background of the politics of medicine and how to "not throw too much money at the false promise of quick cures." Most importantly, we must translate scientific insights into therapies. On a level with Lewis Thomas for its clarity and verve in presenting the science of the cell and the ability of cancer to assume multiple guises.
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Meet the Author
Paul Marks, MD, led the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for nineteen years and has been an advisor on national cancer policy. He was awarded the President’s National Medal of Science, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering has established the Paul Marks Prize for Cancer Research to recognize promising young scientists. James Sterngold is a senior special writer for the Wall Street Journal, is a senior writer for the Wall Street Journal, and previously spent eighteen years as a correspondent at the New York Times.
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