A rigorous investigation of the cancer research-and-treatment landscape.




In order to grasp the enormity of a shape-shifting disease, this examination prods cancer from all angles.

Academic physician Westman (Psychiatry/Univ. of Wisconsin; Licensing Parents, 2007, etc.) approaches the subject of cancer from the perspectives of both a doctor and a caregiver. His wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and fought the disease for 34 years, from her initial treatment, through remission, and a second recurrence. With his strong foundation in medicine, Westman looks at the disease’s many facets: as a mysterious biological entity, as a sprawling research field, as a wily opponent of treatment, and as a distressing diagnosis for loved ones. In particular, he points out that “cancer” is, in some ways, a catchall term for an underlying process called neoplasia. He highlights what he calls an outsize emphasis on search-and-destroy tactics, which are evident in the common treatment triumvirate: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. His curiosity about the field as an area of research led him to consider more innovative, yet vastly underfunded, treatments, including immunotherapy and nutritional therapy. Westman devotes an entire chapter to each of these, summarizing researchers’ discoveries and examining what future questions they might explore. He critiques current types of research, such as the study of tumors rather than metastasis and the use of mice as cancer models even though their systems function differently from humans’. The author agrees with other biomedical critics on the instability and poor dispersion of research funding; he believes that drug companies would be better served by devoting more time and resources to breakthrough innovations rather than making incremental improvements to current methods. Researchers need to get a deeper understanding of metabolic function of malignant cells, he says, instead of focusing on DNA markers for certain cancer types. The author’s thorough explanations don’t presume that readers have extensive medical backgrounds, so many of the research discussions and descriptions of biological processes will be suitable for laypersons. His clear voice and thoughtful approach illuminate the current state of oncology. Although he doesn’t provide solutions for curing cancer, he manages to dissolve some of the ambiguity and fear surrounding this intimidating disease.

A rigorous investigation of the cancer research-and-treatment landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1480813106

Page Count: 310

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...


A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.


A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet