There was a strange ritual on one of the wards in which I worked as a young doctor. Before the chief did his rounds, the medical notes of all the patients would be put out on their bed tables, ready for him to consult – except those of the patients with cancer. They were not the only patients on the ward with potentially fatal conditions, of course; but cancer was regarded as a disease so awful, with an outcome inevitably so degrading, that it shamed the patient and doctor alike, and therefore could not be named or referred to. Cancer was held in a peculiar kind of appalled awe.
In this book, a young American oncologist has written a history not so much of the disease as of modern attempts to overcome it, laced with a few clinical anecdotes drawn from his own experience. It is so well written, and the science is so clearly explained, that