The epic tome on cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies, is subtitled, A Biography of Cancer. I was intrigued by the biography portion of the title and asked the book's Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University, why he used the term "biography." In my latest 1:2:1 podcast, Mukherjee tells me he came to use the description "very late in the process of writing the book" and he chose the word "biography" for three reasons. I also asked him if cancer needed a new narrative and whether the words "race for the cure" and "war on cancer" had outlived their usefulness. "I think we do," he said. "I think we need to re-create narratives to understand what is happening."
Mukherjee also told me that his inspirations in writing his book were Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. He called both game-changers. "They laid out the issues in a way that was simultaneously so politically moving but also so comprehensive that it allowed you to put into perspective everything else behind it." So do we need game-changers in the field of cancer, I asked? "Yes, we do ... but I think that those game-changers will evolve out of the current paradigms of science. And we have a wealth of information, and I suspect that we're underutilizing the wealth of information at this point in time."
I also spoke to Mukherjee for a Q&A featured in the latest issue of Stanford Medicine magazine, a special report on cancer.