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My reflections on The Death of Cancer


Professor Paul Workman introduces his special three-part essay, inspired by the memoir The Death of Cancer, and reflecting on five decades of progress in cancer research and treatment.

Posted on 04 February, 2016 by Professor Paul Workman

Over the festive holiday period I very much enjoyed reading The Death of Cancer.

This fascinating book is a personal memoir by the hugely experienced cancer scientist, clinician, research leader and administrator, Vincent DeVita, co-written with his talented science writer daughter Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn. It is very much about one man’s personal journey through cancer research and treatment – and yet addresses the big questions that we still face today, scientifically, clinically and politically.

I began writing a piece commenting on, and responding to, this book and the subjects it covers. Originally, I intended that the article would appear in this blog, but as the project developed it became clear that it would be rather longer and more involved than my usual pieces. I wanted to devote sufficient space not only to explore the individual aspects of DeVita’s contribution to medical advancement, but also to reflect upon five decades of progress in cancer research and treatment.

What I ended up with was an essay, inspired by DeVita’s and DeVita-Raeburn’s book, and exploring the profound broader implications of its subject matter, but feeding in my own views and experiences as well. I wove in, too, details of the contributions we have made here at The Institute of Cancer Research, London.

My essay will be published in three parts, and the first of those, about the birth of effective drug therapy for cancer, is published elsewhere on our website today, to mark World Cancer Day. It seems appropriate, on a day when much of the attention is being fixed on the heartening falls we are seeing in cancer death rates to highlight the breakthrough achievements of some of the early pioneers of chemotherapy, who laid the foundations for today’s advances.

The essay will be published in three parts, at one-week intervals. I hope you enjoy it.

The Death of Cancer?

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