I’m always happy to find a good book that both adds to my knowledge and is simply a great read. Here are some of the books in the general area of – for lack of a better term – “progress against cancer” that I’ve enjoyed reading and would recommend highly.
A few of these books focus on breast cancer-related topics including breast cancer culture and breast cancer and the environment. Others fall into broader subject areas including cancer history, the politics of cancer care and research into new drug therapies.
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
The author is a cancer physician and researcher who explains that the book is a very long answer to a question first posed by a patient being treated for an aggressive cancer who who said, “I’m willing to go on, but I need to know what it is I’m battling.” This book provides a balanced grounding for the layperson in the history of efforts to better understand and better treat this complex family of diseases.
Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams
Do you wonder what role our external environment, including our exposure to various chemicals from our food and the products we use, may have on our breasts and our health, including our risk for breast cancer? The author is a science journalist who made a determined, educated effort to find some answers. In this book, she provides lots of background and context for understanding what we do and don’t know about this important question.
How We Do Harm: A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick in America by Otis Webb Brawley, M.D. and Paul Goldberg
Dr. Otis Webb Brawley is the chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society. He shows how the medical decision-making process in this country, which is skewed towards incentives based on profit rather than sound science and patient benefit, is actually harming patients. Dr. Brawley includes numerous patient stories in the book.
Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health by Gayle A. Sulik
Understanding the role of “pink ribbon culture” is an important part of understanding where we are as a society in the effort to end deaths from breast cancer. In this book, Gayle Sulik, Ph.D., a sociologist and research associate at the University of Albany (SUNY) explores in depth the impact of pink ribbon culture.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
In the early 1950’s, a sample of cervical cancer cells were taken from a poor African American woman without her knowledge. This book by science writer Rebecca Skloot is the story of how those cells developed into the famous immortal cancer cell line known as HeLa, which has played a key role in numerous medical advances. It is also the story of the Lacks family, and their quest for recognition of the contributions of Henrietta Lacks to medical science.
The Cancer Culture Chronicles by Rachel Cheetham Moro
This book is the blog of Rachel Cheetham Moro from 2009 until her death in February 2012 from metastatic breast cancer. The material from her blog was compiled into a book by her mother, Mandy Cheetham and close friend and fellow blogger, Sarah Horton. Rachel’s humor, writing talent and unique tell-it-like-it-is style made this book one that I found hard to put down.
Between the Lines: Finding the Truth in Medical Literature by Marya Zilberberg MD, MPH
This short book is an excellent primer on how to read and understand medical literature without relying solely on the interpretations of others. The author demonstrates the strengths and weaknesses of various study designs and helps readers to draw on medical literature to aid in understanding the risks and benefits of medical tests and treatments.
Her-2: The Making of Herceptin, a Revolutionary Treatment for Breast Cancer by Robert Bazell
This book was published in 1998, the year that Herceptin received FDA approval for treatment of patients with metastatic breast cancer. It provides a fascinating historical account of the discovery of the role of HER-2/neu in breast cancer development and the efforts over years of many determined scientists, researchers, patients and advocates to bring this targeted therapy through the labyrinthine clinical trials process.