Book Title: Exploring The Dangerous And Elusive World Of Cancer
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee is an incredible read if you’re trying to gain a fuller understanding of the greatest medical challenge of human history: cancer.
Starting in 2500 BCE, when descriptions and theories of the illness first began to spread, Mukherjee chronicles nearly 5,000 years of our struggles with cancer.
He explains the two biological factors that make cancer cells so deadly and guides us through the landmark moments in cancer treatment and research that point to our future battles against the disease.
Additionally, he also reveals interesting nuggets such as how eternal youth can be disastrous for our cells; why young women’s jaws began to crumble after painting watches; and how a pathologist working with a New York socialite controversially changed the face of cancer research.
Today, We Understand That Cancer Has Its Roots In Genetics And Internal Cell Abnormalities Rather Than Externally-Caused Poisons And Miasmas
We have known about cancer since ancient times – but our understanding of it is very different today.
Back in 400 BCE, Hippocrates believed the four cardinal humors or fluids of the human body – blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile – could be out of balance, causing an individual to get ill or even have a personality problem.
It was suggested that tumors were caused by an entrapment of black bile; however, autopsies were forbidden at this time for religious reasons so there was no chance to prove this theory until the 16th century.
Vesalius made a startling discovery during his autopsies of cancer-ridden corpses– neither the tumors nor the bodies contained any trace of black bile.
Late 18th-century physician Baillie reproduced similar results from his own investigations.
With Galen’s refuted theory in hand, many scientists then turned their attention towards external, invisible agents that might trigger cancer such as miasmas or even worms, fungal spores and protozoa!
Thanks to modern science we now understand that these theories are false and that cancer has a different underlying cause than previously thought.
Nowadays we know much more about its origin and treatments; while curing cancer still remains to be a challenge, it’s clear that medical advances have allowed us to broaden our understanding vastly compared to past ages.’
Rudolf Virchow Pioneered Our Modern Understanding Of Cancer Through His Observations Under The Microscope
We now understand that cancer starts from our own cells, but the differences between normal cells and cancerous ones are what makes cancer such a deadly disease.
Cancer cells don’t die like normal cells do and keep replicating incessantly.
Rudolf Virchow’s great discovery of the cellular theory of cancer in 1840 enabled us to better appreciate this dangerous quality of cancerous cells.
Through his research, he determined that tumors were made up of many body-originated cells which explained why they replicated out of control.
What causes them to replicate so aggressively then? The reason lies with mutated growth genes: these genes make them insensitive to growth signals or inhibitors, thus driving them into an unstoppable replication cycle without any signal.
This is why it’s so hard to combat the affliction despite deep knowledge about it.
Moreover, unlike normal cells, cancerous ones also avoid aging and decompositions when they’re damaged: since they don’t age or destruct once damaged, they remain in their state endlessly worsening the effect of their aberrant behavior.
Thus we can see that while we have empirical evidence in support of a parasitic cause for cancers, we nowadays understand its origin differently: as a result of gene mutation arising from within our body in form of perversion of our own cell’s nature– a point first established by Galen centuries ago.
The Discovery Of How Everyday Toxins Can Induce The Growth Of Cancerous Cells
Certain chemicals, such as benzene, heavy metals and asbestos, can not only cause cancer but also prevent our body from fighting it.
It all begins with a mutation of cells caused by the toxins known as mutagens.
This altered cell can grow uncontrollably and reproduce, leading to cancerous tissue.
Furthermore, these same toxins may disrupt our immune system’s ability to eliminate any potentially malignant cells that pop up.
Normally the immune system would be able to detect and destroy anything that’s out of place in our bodies – but if it’s stopped from doing so, then this renegade cell is free to replicate itself endlessly and lead to cancerous tissue.
This is why we need to be aware of these everyday substances and avoid them at all costs.
However, there is still much more research needed on other environmental causes of cancer – such as infections – in order for us to fully protect ourselves from this deadly disease.
How Infections Can Lead To Cancer
Infections can increase the risk of cancer in a variety of ways, one of which is by causing mutations as our tissue attempts to repair itself.
When inflammation occurs due to a virus or bacteria, for example, it causes damage to the cells that make up the infected tissue.
This prompts other surrounding intact cells to divide in order to help with repairing this damaged area.
Unfortunately, every cell division increases the chance of DNA copy errors which could result in cancerous mutations.
Another known carcinogen is Helicobacter pylori – a type of bacteria that lives in our stomachs and causes peptic ulcers.
Once again, this damage presents an opportunity for healthy cells to replicate themselves so they can replace these damaged cells.
The unfortunate thing is that while they replicate, they risk producing defective copies with mutated DNA that could become cancerous over time.
Viruses have also been known to directly alter human DNA and activate cancer-causing genes when doing so – such as the hepatitis-B virus which has been linked to various cancers over time.
It’s worth noting though that most infections won’t result in cancerous mutations nor vice versa: The majority of cancers don’t arise from infections, and there are very few times when infection will lead to cancer.
However, this doesn’t nullify how dangerous some germs may be; it simply means we should focus more on practicing good hygiene habits if we want to stay safe!
The Risk Factors For Cancer – From Radiation And Hormones To Genes
We know that radiation, hormones and genetic influences are all factors that can increase your risk of cancer.
In the 1920s, Nobel laureate Hermann Muller demonstrated this by bombarding fruit flies with x-rays; their rate of mutated flies increased multifold as a result.
In humans, radiation damages the DNA of our cells, leading to mutations that can eventually become cancerous.
Hormones also have an effect on cancer risk – any breast tissue will grow faster when exposed to estrogen, including tumors.
This is why some cancers run in families – for example, mutations of the BRCA1 gene predispose whole families of women to breast and ovarian cancer because it helps repair damaged DNA in breast tissue and if the gene is mutated it won’t be able to repair those cells which leads them to accumulate more damage and become cancerous.
So it’s clear that we need be aware of these risks when it comes to developing certain kinds of cancer.
While we don’t have control over our genes or hormonal levels, there may be precautionary steps we can take against external factors such as radiation exposure and environmental toxins which are known carcinogens.
Cancer Treatment: Battling An Old Foe With Newer Weapons
Since antiquity, cancer has been fought by surgical means – with varying levels of success.
The case of the proud Persian queen Atossa is an example of a successful operation in 500 BCE, when her slave Democedes was able to cut out a lump in her breast, saving her life.
However, surgeons back then lacked two essential elements that we take for granted today: anesthesia and proper hygiene.
This meant that operations were not only excruciatingly painful for patients, but also often led to highly dangerous infections after the surgery had ended.
Some surgeons resorted to increasingly radical means in an attempt to fight cancer – such as destroying every single cancerous cell they encountered; removing all infected muscles as well as lymph nodes; and so on – all of which clearly had terrible consequences.
Thankfully, we now have access to much better anesthetics and antiseptics that make modern surgery safer for those suffering from cancer – though it’s worth remembering how far we’ve come since ancient times!
How Chemotherapy Uses Clever Methods To Stop Cancer Cell Growth
Chemotherapy has long been one of the most important tools available in fighting cancer.
It’s a powerful and effective way to curb the rapid replication of cancer cells that would otherwise be impossible to cut out with surgery.
It works by damaging the parts of DNA that drive cell division, thus cutting off growth in affected population but especially in cancer cells which are already multiplying rapidly and can’t repair their damaged DNA.
Mustard gas derivatives are one example of substances used in chemotherapy, and they are used to treat blood cancers like leukemia or lymphomas by reducing the number of cancer cells found in lymph nodes, bone marrow, and blood.
Other types of chemotherapy attack cancer cells on a metabolic level rather than through their DNA.
These drugs called antimetabolites mimic nutrients that our body needs – like folate for cell replication – and then disrupt critical functions when taken up by a cancer cell, thereby halting its growth without harming normal healthy cells.
Such antifolateswere the first drugs ever successfully used against leukemia.
So there you have it, numerous chemotherapeutic agents effectively put a stop to uncontrolled multiplication of those dreaded malignant cells.
How Radiation Can Both Cause And Treat Cancer – Exploring The Benefits Of Radiotherapy
When surgery and chemotherapy don’t seem to be having the desired effect on cancer, radiation becomes a great option.
Radiotherapy uses highly controlled and intense rays that are targeted towards cancer cells and can kill them when they have spread over a limited area.
Take for example, the most common blood cancer suffered by children which is acute lymphoblastic leukemia, often it responds well to chemotherapy but some of the cancer cells may have hidden in the brain and evaded chemotherapy doses.
In this case radiation treatment can help as it involves firing high energy beams into the patient’s head several times a week for a few weeks irrespective of where these cells have spread within the brain.
The procedure doesn’t cause pain but can lead to fatigue, nausea and hair loss but greatly reduces the likelihood of relapse.
It’s also extremely useful when dealing with tumors located at critical areas like inside one’s brain since cutting would be out of question as it’s too risky, unlike in radiation were controlled beams won’t cause much damage due to how precise it is which provides an alternative if surgery and chemotherapy aren’t working.
This is why radiotherapy is an important part of cancer treatment when other treatments fail, or even combined with conventional treatments turn into powerful combination treatment plans.
Mary Lasker And Sidney Farber: An Unconventional Duo Who Revolutionised Cancer Treatment
In the twentieth century, Sidney Farber and Mary Lasker – a pathologist from Boston and a New York socialite respectively – joined forces to lead the fight against cancer.
Farber was responsible for discovering how antifolates could be used to treat leukemia in 1947, thus becoming known as the father of modern chemotherapy.
On top of that, he also focused on providing holistic care with his compassionate approach to oncological treatments, including establishing vital social networks.
Lasker’s area of expertise was advertisement and marketing, which she knew well as an experienced businesswoman.
She had used this knowledge to help revive the American Cancer Society in 1945 and she envisioned how much could be achieved with it when coupled with Farber’s scientific background.
The end result of their partnership was the National Cancer Act signed by President Nixon in 1971 that granted $1.5 billion in research funds – a number that would have been impossible without them!
To this day, we owe much understanding about cancer to this amazing duo who defied their expected paths and made history together.
The Emperor of All Maladies provides an authoritative, comprehensive summary of all the research, breakthroughs and innovative approaches that have been made in cancer care.
Through this book, readers gain a deep understanding of the dynamic nature of cancer cells and the range of options available to combat and prevent it.
At its core, this book delivers a powerful message – despite cancer’s complexity, we now have the knowledge, techniques and resources to eliminate, treat and prevent it from happening again.
This is incredibly important for both patients and their families as they seek to better understand their diagnosis, treatment options and support programs.
Ultimately, The Emperor of All Maladies serves to demonstrate how far we’ve come in our battle against cancer.