The Death of Cancer: After Fifty Years on the Front Lines of Medicine, a Pioneering Oncologist Reveals Why the War on Cancer Is Winnable—and How We Can Get There
Vincent T. DeVita Jr., Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn
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Cancer touches everybody's life in one way or another. But most of us know very little about how the disease works, why we treat it the way we do, and the personalities whose dedication got us where we are today. For fifty years, Dr. Vincent T. DeVita Jr. has been one of those key players: he has held just about every major position in the field, and he developed the first successful chemotherapy treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma, a breakthrough the American Society of Clinical Oncologists has called the top research advance in half a century of chemotherapy. As one of oncology's leading figures, DeVita knows what cancer looks like from the lab bench and the bedside. The Death of Cancer is his illuminating and deeply personal look at the science and the history of one of the world's most formidable diseases. In DeVita's hands, even the most complex medical concepts are comprehensible.
Cowritten with DeVita's daughter, the science writer Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn, The Death of Cancer is also a personal tale about the false starts and major breakthroughs, the strong-willed oncologists who clashed with conservative administrators (and one another), and the courageous patients whose willingness to test cutting-edge research helped those oncologists find potential treatments. An emotionally compelling and informative read, The Death of Cancer is also a call to arms. DeVita believes that we're well on our way to curing cancer but that there are things we need to change in order to get there. Mortality rates are declining, but America's cancer patients are still being shortchanged—by timid doctors, by misguided national agendas, by compromised bureaucracies, and by a lack of access to information about the strengths and weaknesses of the nation's cancer centers.
With historical depth and authenticity, DeVita reveals the true story of the fight against cancer. The Death of Cancer is an ambitious, vital book about a life-and-death subject that touches us all.
the progress in two stages. First, I’ll describe what we’ve learned about cancer. This is a devil we know far, far better than we did when the war on cancer began. Second, I’ll talk about the treatments that have come from the war on cancer and how they are changing cancer for many people into a chronic disease—not a killer. In March 2011, I picked up a copy of Cell, a leading scientific journal, and noticed an article titled “Hallmarks of Cancer: The Next Generation.”5 It stopped me cold. For
depressing sight, exacerbated by the colorless, depressing room with government-green metal walls and green-and-black floor tiles. Her abdomen had been drained of fluid several times, and the repeated punctures had caused an infection, so she was on multiple antibiotics. She had what we called the six-tube sign—six different bottles were hanging over her, with lines running into veins in her arms and legs. She also had a tube in her nose to decompress her stomach. As residents, we used to say if
One week from surgery, Peter called. “Vince, I have very good news. All the lymph nodes are negative.” The MRI was probably picking up a signal from a reactive lymph node there as a consequence of my prior surgery. Lymph nodes swell sometimes if there is inflammation around them. “And,” he said, “in reviewing the MRI, they don’t think there was a bone signal, either.” It looked as if MSKCC’s MRI machine might truly have been too sensitive and yielded false positive results. I was overcome with
assemble all the information on clinical trials into an easy-to-use database. We also decided to write up what we called state-of-the-art protocols describing each kind of cancer and how it should be treated. We asked for help from specialists inside and outside the NCI, and we got it. We set a target of less than two years for the completion of the project. We quickly ran into a problem when we wanted to sign a contract that would send all of the work to a single contractor. By law, all
morning TV shows to present the findings to the public. After every show, a few more patients were referred. Now the study results, which changed the paradigm for breast cancer treatment, were being delayed, possibly for the same old reason—resentment. Bernie suspected his study was being deliberately held up by reviewers who themselves resented the change in practice that it was suggesting. Fisher didn’t know where to turn. “Is there anything you can do?” he asked me. I knew Bud Relman, the