The observable examined

Biography of cancer

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Cancer is a topic near and dear to my heart, so I am now hypertuned to this topic. I came across a book called the “Emperor of all Maladies” by Dr.Siddharatha Mukherjee. It turned out that the author was on NPR’s Fresh Air a couple of days ago.


It is a fascinating interview. I highly recommend it. I have reproduced below a partial transcript (full transcript –http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=131382460).

ROSS: Is our genetic system programmed to get cancer?

Dr. MUKHERJEE: Well, you know, it’s always hard to answer questions which are -which speculate about evolution, but this much is for sure: The very genes that allow cells to proliferate, to survive, to move, to adapt to circumstances, to resist poisons, those very genes, when they become corrupted, are genes that are co-opted by cancer cells to become cancer.

So there is of course a deep link, and as the book suggests, if there’s a seminal discovery in oncology in the last 20 years, it’s exactly that. It’s the idea that cancer genes are often, this is not always true, but are often mutated versions of normal genes. And that moment, the arrival of that moment really chilled the world of cancer biology. The book describes that moment. It really sent a kind of a chill down the spine of cancer biology. Because here we were hoping that cancer would turn out to be some exogenous event, a virus or something that could be then removed from our environment or removed from our bodies and therefore we would be rid of it.

But the idea that cancer genes are sitting inside each and every one of our chromosomes, just waiting to be corrupted or inactivated and thereby unleashing cancer is of course one of the seminal ideas of oncology. But it also, it’s a -as you can imagine – a deep philosophical idea about what it means to be a human being and how sort of the seeds of cancer are sort of already inlaid into our chromosomes.

I plan (will) to read the book.

Update: 11/23/10.

I had a brief correspondence with  Dr.Mukherjee. He has indicated that he will highlight the need for more attention/research dollars, for the pancreatic cancer and metastatic melanoma, during his upcoming interviews and tours.


Written by asterix98

November 19, 2010 at 5:08 am

Posted in Oncology

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