Kirkus Reviews QR Code
CANCER by Mel Greaves

CANCER

The Evolutionary Legacy

By Mel Greaves

Pub Date: March 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-19-262835-6
Publisher: Oxford Univ.

A meticulous scientific explanation of cancer in all of its wretched manifestations, cast in the light of evolutionary biology.

Leukemia researcher Greaves (London Institute of Cancer Research) makes it clear that his first concern is relieving cancer’ s

human toll: Prevention, earlier detection, and more bearable and efficacious treatments are the driving force behind his research.

But his focus here is on explaining the intricate mechanisms of cellular biology and demonstrating which haphazard combination

of events allows for "the territorial expansion of a mutant clone." Greaves argues that cancer is not a modern disease—rather,

he cites records of occurrences worldwide and in ancient cultures to bolster his theory that it has always been with us. We learn,

for instance, that a gene mutation present in a tumor found in the mummified body of Ferrante I of Aragon and Naples (d. 1494)

exactly matches the mutation found in some present-day cancers: This was the same disease. His brief history also makes clear

the cyclical nature of the debate on causation (are some personalties cancer-prone?). The bottom line? Cells are structured "to

oscillate on the edge of chaos and the scales can be tipped the wrong way"—by exposure to stress, to a variety of DNA-damaging

chemicals (many of which occur naturally), and by chance mutation.

Greaves’s study is complex and dense, but readers who stick with it will have a solid understanding of one of the most feared

of all diseases.