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19.09.2023 Oncology

The trajectory of cancer

A geneticist recommends a book that establishes a timeline based on the first record of the disease, found on ancient Egyptian papyrus

Cancer cells illustration | Image: Shutterstock


The book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Indian oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee.


Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, one of the world’s most respected literary awards, Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book tells the story of cancer, from Ancient Egypt’s first records of what the disease was to the discovery of its molecular foundations. The book alternates between historical facts and the author’s medical routine of treating his patients.

Mukherjee clearly explains the scientific aspects of cancer, shedding light on the process of discovery that culminated in our understanding that the disease affects our cells and our genes, and that devastating surgeries are therefore not necessary to treat it.

The doctor even describes the epic story of the tobacco industry’s attempts to hide what it knew about the effects of cigarettes on human health.

Because the book was released in 2010, it unfortunately does not cover the current revolution involving new cancer treatments that use the patient’s own immune system to fight tumors.

But that doesn’t matter: The Emperor of All Maladies tells a fascinating story of the evolution of science, medicine, and society as a whole.


The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Scribner, 2010).

*Lygia da Veiga Pereira is a geneticist and professor at the Biosciences Institute of the University of São Paulo (USP), where she heads the National Laboratory of Embryonic Stem Cells (LaNCE). She is also on the Board of Directors of the International Society for Stem Cell Research.

Opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of Science Arena or Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein.

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