Wednesday, April 01, 2015

"Cancer:The Emperor of All Maladies" from Ken Burns

PBS has aired a 3-part documentary produced by Ken Burns and Florentine Films, “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies”, directed by Chris Dorrance and Barak Goodman.  The three parts are (1) The Blind Men and the Elephant, (2) Cancer: A Conversation, and (3) Magic Bullets.  The best link is here.
Chemotherapy and radiation for cancer started to become more in general use back in the early 1960s, when it was studied at NIH (literally while I was a “psychiatric” patient but got to work with patient specimens I the labs).  I had a female music teacher die suddenly of colon cancer in 1958.  In the old days, the dreaded word was “colostomy”.

The documentary gets into the genetic causes of most tumors, as an example of evolution speeded up. Although the genetics are very complex, there are about twelve patterns that most cancers follow.  Some people have a naïve idea of a single “cure for cancer” based on the idea of changing the biochemistry that allows cells not to die.
The documentary covered the efforts of 26-year-old lawyer in 1970 to force networks to air anti-smoking ads, leading to most cigarette ads being off the air by the early 1970s.  That was shortly before I worked for NBC.
The film covered the stories of many patients, and the strategies doctors have of counseling them over terminal disease.  Once a cancer recurs, it is usually fatal.

The latter part of the film covered immunotherapy. 
The film did not go into HIV specifically very much, and it didn’t mention the idea of quick early detection tests like Jack Andraka’s.  It did not play up the emotions too much, the way some earlier PBS specials had (like "Lion in the House" about a decade ago). 

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