"Roughly half of us will be diagnosed with cancer," writes David Scadden, and "one in five Americans will die from it." Co-founder of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Scadden has witnessed cancer from many perspectives: as a child, when one of his friends disappeared from school; as a son, when his parents both contracted different forms; and as a physician and researcher.
In Cancerland, he expertly combines his personal stories of treating patients with the history of cancer treatments. Some of the descriptions are graphic as Scadden shares with readers the nitty-gritty details of how doctors have been handling cancers since they were first identified. Massive chemotherapy and radiation treatments and extreme surgeries were the foundations of today's protocols, which use subtler techniques such as obtaining marrow stem cells from the blood rather than repeated draws from the hip bone. New discoveries in the drug world led to the use of ATZ or azidothymidine for HIV/AIDS patients, and Scadden also addresses the roles money and power play in the research and development of new cancer drugs.
Most exciting is his examination of stem cell research and of the genome and epigenome, which "helps cells differentiate into different tissues and then helps drive their activity." It is in this arena that doctors are most hopeful in finding effective treatments for a scourge that affects so many. Blending memoir and medical history, Cancerland provides valuable information to those seeking a better understanding of cancer in all its complexities. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer