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Cancer: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) [Paperback]

Nick James
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 May 2011 Very Short Introductions
, Nick James examines the trends and treatment of cancer, looking at efforts to develop treatments, research into cures, and the future of cancer care.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 152 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (26 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199560234
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199560233
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 11.3 x 17.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 91,191 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

About the Author

In 1961 John F. Kennedy pledged to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Nine years later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. Ten years later, Richard Nixon echoed this pledge by declaring a 'war' on cancer. More than 30 years later, however, cancer remains one of the largest causes of death worldwide, with around 1 in 3 developing the disease. Curing cancer is not 'rocket science', but the question is, why has cancer proved to be harder to tackle than the moon landings turned out to be?

Cancer research is a major economic activity. There are constant improvements in treatment techniques that result in better cure rates and increased quality and quantity of life for those with the disease, yet stories of breakthroughs in a cure for cancer are often in the media.

In this Very Short Introduction Nick James, founder of the CancerHelp UK website, examines the trends in diagnosis and treatment of the disease, as well as its economic consequences. Asking what cancer is and what causes it, he considers issues surrounding expensive drug development, what can be done to reduce the risk of developing cancer, and the use of complementary and alternative therapies.

ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a basic question 19 Jun 2011
By Stephen
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This follows the usual format of this excellent series, but is not one of the outstanding volumes. Chapters deal with 'the size of the cancer problem', how cancer develops, how cancer is treated, and cancer research, and there is a trenchant chapter on alternative therapies of various kinds. It is clearly presented and I did learn quite a lot, although the diagrams and other illustrative matter are not much help.

What is missing is a discussion of the key question: why is cancer something people die of? The author goes into certain kinds of cancer (lung, liver and so on, and prostate which seems to be his own specialism), and describes how they start, are detected and progress, but if he does address this question I missed it.

And, as a sometime copy editor myself, I thought this had not been very well copy-edited: 'may' and 'might' confused, subject/verb agreement not reliable.... It would be boring to go on. But I was surprised that such a good publisher as OUP should not have given this more attention.
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5.0 out of 5 stars love 18 Mar 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'm a uni student and this is great as a small revision guide for my oncology module. brief and clear!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and Informative 16 Aug 2011
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Cancer is a terrible disease. It is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, and it is the disease that we still don't have a very good handle on. There is hardly any family that has not been touched by cancer. The tragedy of a death or impaired life due to cancer is usually so dreadful that we can hardly bring ourselves to understand it better, especially if our understanding seems to have almost no effect on our lives. However, it is important to understand cancer for many reasons, not least of which is the impact that this understanding can have on public and health-care policies. This very short introduction aims to give the reader a quick, yet fairly comprehensive, view of cancer.

Strictly speaking, cancer is not one, but many different diseases. Even though the basic underlying cellular mechanism behind all cancers is essentially the same, the ways in which various cancers manifest themselves varies greatly. Furthermore, cancer affects people at different stages of their lives differently. These are just some of the complexities that one encounters when taking a closer look at cancer, and this book does a great job of exploring those issues. The book deals with the size of the cancer problem, the development of cancer, the treatment of cancer, cancer research, the economics of cancer care, and the alternative and complementarity approaches to cancer care. All of these topics are dealt with very objectively and dispassionately, and yet this book is not a dry read. It is written with a lot of care and insight into the vastness of the problem that is cancer.

I have to admit, this was a very hard book for me to read. I could only read about a dozen or so pages at a time since the topic of cancer has such a powerful and morbid impact on me. Nonetheless, I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the basic facts about cancer.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed feelings 9 Sep 2012
By Irfan A. Alvi - Published on
I have mixed feelings about this book. On the positive side, the author correctly points out that:

- Mortality rates due to cancer vary around the world, but are generally quite high, especially in the developed world. Cancer is a HUGE problem.

- The ability to effectively treat cancer depends heavily on the type of cancer.

- Most results in cancer treatment have come from surgery and radiotherapy, and cancer drugs have been of limited benefit.

- The limited benefit of cancer drugs is partly due to their only working for a subset of patients (and we still are largely unable to identify those patients in advance), and the side effects of cancer drugs can shorten lifespan and lower quality of life. Moreover, when cancer drugs do 'work', the survival benefit is typically small (on the order of months) and only a small minority of responding patients see a large survival benefit (on the order of years).

- The cost of cancer treatment is huge and growing, and cancer drugs are a big part of that, despite their limited benefit.

On the negative side, there are three main areas where I think the book falls short:

- There are important modern areas of cancer research and treatment, such as epigenetics and metabolics, of which the author appears to be largely unaware.

- I think the author paints a bit too rosy a picture of progress being made with cancer treatment (though he does express reservations).

- The author is clearly uninformed and incorrectly pessimistic with regard to complementary/alternative medicine. While clinical trials in this area are lacking (but not entirely, and financial considerations are the main reason), the overall evidence in support of many of these CAM treatments is considerable. Many books and thousands of journal papers are available which describe this evidence.

So I can recommend this book as a resource for some basic information, but be sharply aware of its limitations and biases.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars informative introduction and commentary 22 Feb 2013
By Nigel Kirk - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book provides a reasonably thorough introduction to an enormous topic. The development of cancer is described at a general level with examples and an introduction to oncogenetics; its treatment, again necessarily at a general level but explaining the main treatment methods and examining approaches for different cancers; ongoing areas of research and implicit problems in choosing priorities; and the size and economics of cancer's impact globally and in specific countries. James devotes a chapter to alternative and complementary medicine. James takes a fresh approach, is objective and, through the currency and extent of his expertise, is appropriately cynical about some disparities, even inequities, in the priorities and contradictions in the treatment of cancer in some jurisdictions. He drills down through statistics to identify important trends, some unexpected, across geographic regions, countries and cultures. His reporting of the evident importance of Vitamin D in cancer prevention may be worth the price of the book many times over. Contrary to the views of alternative medicine advocates, Vitamin C fares less well. Many pharmaceutical products are demystified.

Slight criticisms of this format would include the illegibility of some early tables which have been reduced in size and are now black and white. One can piece together some of what the tables are saying by crossing back to the supporting text a few times but, alas, that is not how supporting tables are meant to work.

I was expecting James, a representative of the medical establishment, to pay short shrift to alternative and complementary medicines. He devotes a chapter to these approaches which, given the other areas he had to cover, is generous but nevertheless will make him a target for those who would have the balance the other way. Fortunately, there are many resources on non-medical treatments available. While dismissing some quackery, James is generally fair and evidence-based, importantly highlighting the high risk that can exist if a complementary medicine confounds other treatments. This approach seems reasonable and the reader may consider his points in the context of the disparities, contradictions and trans-border inequities that James identifies in national treatment and pharmaceutical support regimes, and in the context of the commercial priorities of pharmaceutical companies when they try to dovetail with these regimes and appease investors and shareholders. While alternative and complementary approaches have potential risks and drawbacks, the reader is left thinking that it may be preferable to assess them more broadly against the scientific method than against expensive, complex and bureaucratic systems tailored for drug companies and their products. James may not share this view, but the strength of his book is that it provides a sound introduction so that readers may think around the topic as I have.

James has made very good use of the Very Short Introduction format. There are many topics that he has not touched upon but the reader will be better prepared to undertake further reading, to make sense of media, commercial, bureaucratic, even political, statements about cancer treatment. Most importantly, there is information to help manage personal risk and to talk to experts if necessary.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Easy Read for Such a Difficult Subject (4.5 Stars) 24 Aug 2012
By Brian J. Hendricks - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The subject matter of this book is enough to make anyone want to pass on the recommendation that they may receive from or from a friend that may have read it. This is the way that I felt when I actually ordered the book. In fact, when it arrived, I quickly took it out of the box and shoved it into the book case to be read at a later date.

Once the book was finally picked up, I found that I could not put it down. Yes, cancer is a scary and macabre subject, but this book removes some of the horrific feelings that such a word conjures up. Dr. James somehow manages to weave his way through the seriousness of the subject by showing his reader just how much is known about the disease today when compared to earlier times. He explains how it (cancer) comes into being and ways that it is treated today, was treated in the past and will most likely be treated in the future. His writing style and understanding of the subject turned a dreaded and scary read nearly into a page turner.

One of the interesting things about the book is that on the back flap it talks about the kind of cancers that Dr. James treats and that he also works to inform people about cancer. This is exactly what he has done with this informative and even engaging book.

This is a terrible subject that many people do not want to think about let alone read about. And this is where the beauty of the book truly lives. It helps to demystify this dreaded word and diagnosis. Everyone brave enough to pick it up will come away knowing more about this disease than they may have thought possible and may even have a better sense of hope knowing what was and where understanding and treatment is headed.

Overall, highly recommended for its clarity and ability to inform the reader about such an ugly subject.
5.0 out of 5 stars Cancer: a very short introduction by Nicholas James. 29 April 2014
By William P. Palmer - Published on
Review of Cancer: a very short introduction by Nicholas James.

CITATION: James, N. (2011). Cancer: a very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Reviewer: Dr W. P. Palmer.

The series of books published by Oxford University Press are short, well written, up-to-date books giving the latest information about more than 250 different topics. With scientific topics, the rate at which knowledge of an area changes can be very fast. In the case of this particular book on the cancer, this is very much the case, with a large amount of information only being discovered in the past ten years. As this book was written in 2011, much new information will have been discovered by now (2014) so that the book may already be in need of revision. The main chapters in this 135 page book are:

Acknowledgements xi
List of illustrations xiii
Chapter 1 The size of the cancer problem 1
Chapter 2 How does cancer develop? 24
Chapter 3 How is cancer treated? 45
Chapter 4 Cancer research. 73
Chapter 5 The economics of cancer care. 93
Chapter 6 Alternative and complementary approaches to cancer care. 109
Further reading

There are 25 black and white illustrations and 8 tables. These illustrations are helpful, but the size of the print on some of them is so small, for example Table 1, page 6, that it is difficult to make sense of them. The book provides a large amount of information in a small space, but the consequence is that sometimes the most important issues are not clearly spelled out.

The final chapter on ‘Alternative and complementary approaches to cancer care’ is actually more general than just considering the approaches to cancer care as the author directs our attention to the lack of logic in paying large amounts of money for unproven alternative treatments. Some readers may take offense if their favourite treatment appears to be targeted, but it is always good to see what approaches the logical and informed mind would reject.

The book is well worth reading.

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