27 July, 2021

The Epic Of Malignancy

A US-based physician tackles the fecund life of one of our bitterest enemies with lyricism, insight and rigour

Jitender Gupta
The Epic Of Malignancy

In many ways, the opposite of life is not death, but cancer. Death is after all an event, singular in its occurrence and emphatic in its finality. The process of living, of building our bodies from tiny seeds, and of using an intricate network of complex systems to stay alive, is perhaps most graphically mirrored by cancer. Arising from within it turns the idea of life against itself, in dizzyingly varied ways, using the power of evolution to stay one step ahead of our attempts to still its inexorably malignant journey, eventually overwhelming us with its seeming omniscience. Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book is an epic attempt to tell the story of this “expansionist disease” that “invades through tissues, sets up colonies in hostile landscapes, seeking ‘sanctuary’ in one organ and then immigrating to another”. Tracing its journey from its earliest mention in the writings of Imhotep, an Egyptian physician, dated around 2500 BC, to the modern understanding of the process by which ‘accelerator’...

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