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.