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Cancer in Prime Time

Posted 2/13/2015

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  You likely have noticed/heard that there is a media spotlight right now on cancer. Ken Burns has produced a three part, two hours each, documentary that will air at the end of March, and there is already a radio series underway on  NPR. Both projects were inspired, and are loosely based on, the recent book The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, As an important aside, if you have not already read the book, do so ASAP. Although it is a very serious topic, it reads like a good novel, and you will learn why cancer is such a difficult puzzle.

  I have not heard any of the radio programs yet, and, honestly, am unsure whether I wish to listen. That same ambivalence will accompany the debut of the television series. Since I spend my days immersed in cancer, it is not so tempting to spend my free time there, too. On the other hand, I really loved the book, and I know that many of my patients will be listening and watching, and I can hold up my end of an intelligent conversation much more easily if I have done so, too.

  It is terrific, I think, that this serious attention is being paid. All too often cancer makes an appearance on television or in movies or in books as a tragic part of the plot; I surely do not want to be "entertained" on Saturday night with a movie about a cancer death. Most of these films or books, too, present a pretty inaccurate, sensationalized, or prettied up version of reality.

  This is a good piece from Medscape about the upcoming programs.

Cancer Looms Large on US Television and Radio
Zosia Chustecka

In the United States, cancer is having an extended moment in the limelight, with a three-part television documentary to be aired next month and a 10-story radio series that is already underway.
Both projects are tied in to the Pulitzer Prize–winning book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD. The book tells the story of cancer from its first identification thousands of years ago through modern times, especially the discoveries that have been made since the 1950s that have led to paradigm shifts in how cancer is now treated.
The new documentary — Ken Burns Presents Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, a Film by Barak Goodman — is a three-part, six-hour television series that will air on PBS stations on the evenings of March 30, 31, and April 1. The film has been supported by a number of organizations, including the American Cancer Society, the American Association for Cancer Research, as well as pharmaceutical companies (Genentech and Bristol Myers Squibb) and other institutions; a full list of partners and also short previews are available on the series website.
"There is an interesting moment in time just at this moment where there is a confluence of medicine and technology to make a really significant advance against cancer in a way that we haven't before," said Louis J. DeGennaro, PhD, president and CEO of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), one of the supporters of the film. "What the book and the film do is chronicle, in a very approachable way, the efforts of many scientists and physicians over the years to bring us to this moment in time," he told Medscape Medical News in an interview.
"The film actually goes beyond the book to some new developments that...chronicle the future of cancer treatment," he said.

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