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  • Kirk Hartley

Cancer: “The Emperor of All Maladies” – Do Not Miss This Week’s 6 hour PBS M


More will die from cancer over the next two years than died in combat in all the wars the United States has ever fought, combined.”

In the US, more people die of cancer every 2 days than died in the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001.

“For 2014, the American Cancer Society estimated 15,780 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed and 1,960 deaths will occur among children and adolescents aged birth to 19 years. Approximately, 1 in 285 children will be diagnosed with cancer before age 20 and about 1 in 530 young adults between the ages of 20 and 39 is a childhood cancer survivor.”

Per ACS, 1.6 million new cancers are diagnosed each year in the US, and 575,000 Americans will die of cancer.

In the next decade, well over 16 million Americans will receive a new cancer diagnosis. 16 million is a number that exceeds the populations of the cities (not suburbs) of our nation’s three largest cities:  Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

Per IARC:  “In 2012, the worldwide burden of cancer rose to an estimated 14 million new cases per year, a figure expected to rise to 22 million annually within … two decades. Over the same period, cancer deaths are predicted to rise from an estimated 8.2 million annually to 13 million per year.”

Per MD Anderson researchers:  “From 2010 to 2030, the total projected cancer incidence will increase by approximately 45%, from 1.6 million in 2010 to 2.3 million in 2030. This increase is driven by cancer diagnosed in older adults and minorities. A 67% increase in cancer incidence is anticipated for older adults, compared with an 11% increase for younger adults. A 99% increase is anticipated for minorities, compared with a 31% increase for whites. From 2010 to 2030, the percentage of all cancers diagnosed in older adults will increase from 61% to 70%, and the percentage of all cancers diagnosed in minorities will increase from 21% to 28%.”

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The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer was a New York Times best seller in 2011-12, and received extensive review and commentary at the time e.g. here, here and here.   Emperor very deservedly won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction:  “the jury called it “an elegant inquiry, at once clinical and personal.

The author of Emperor is a young oncologist who is both a researcher and a treating physician, Siddhartha Mukherjee.  He also is a gifted writer; the book truly is incredible in making cancer science comprehensible. In his biography of cancer, “Mukherjee recounts centuries of discoveries, setbacks, victories, and deaths, told through the eyes of his predecessors and peers, training their wits against an infinitely resourceful adversary that, just three decades ago, was thought to be easily vanquished in an all-out “war against cancer.” The book reads like a literary thriller with cancer as the protagonist.”

Why was Emperor written? According to Dr. Mukherjee, “it was because of a patient  … I was having a conversation with a patient who had stomach cancer,” he recalled, “and she said, ‘I’m willing to go on fighting, but I need to know what it is that I’m battling.’ It was an embarrassing moment. I couldn’t answer her, and I couldn’t point her to a book that would. Answering her question — that was the urgency that drove me, really. The book was written because it wasn’t there.”

Now, PBS, Katie Couric and Ken Burns are presenting Emperor as a 6 hour PBS television mini-series.

Emperor – the movie – already is on some display through a wide range of web sites hosted by PBS, Ken Burns, and cancerfilm.org.

If you are really listening, the stories and scenes from Emperor will rip your heart and sear your mind. And, you will ask more questions about “why” we have not yet successfully attacked this global terrorist with all the money, people and time we invest in stopping other terrorists. In the US, we annually spend $50 billion on “homeland security,” but only $5 billion for the National Cancer Institute.

Most every major and minor cancer advocacy group is in some way supporting promoting Emperor as part of the national conversation about cancer. Just Google “Emperor and cancer” See the sites for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society,  Susan Komen’s CEO, the ACS, and  Stand Up to Cancer. And,  “meso help” web sites are joining too; e.g. here.

Your local PBS network will air the series this week from Monday – Wednesday  at 9:00 eastern.

As Americans age in record numbers, cancers are increasing. Yes, there are far too many tragic cancers in children and young adults, especially cancers of the blood and lymph systems. But most of all, cancers arise in older persons as our immune systems become less effective, and as “hits” and “mutations” have more time to work.

Various cancers already drive significant portions of the litigation industry.  Litigation about cancer will accelerate as more people age, more cancers strike, and as there are more national and local conversation about cancer.

This major presentation of Emperor will go global. Already, over 9 million hits are returned upon running a Google search for “Emperor and cancer.”   Emperor will drive hundreds of millions or billions of conversations about cancer. And, every day events also will drive addition tens of millions of  conversations about cancer. Indeed, conversations about cancer are driven by every new cancer diagnosis, by every cancer death, and by every treatment for cancer. Even more conversations are driven by every walk, run or other form of fund raising or memorial to honor each and every child, parent, spouse or lover stricken by cancer.

Are you really listening to the conversations, and considering the implications? Are you an advocate for and/or contributor to more investment in research to slow or stop the most lethal terrorist of all time?

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About Kirk

Since becoming a lawyer in 1983, Kirk’s over 30 years of practice have focused on advising a wide range of corporations, associations, and individuals (as both plaintiffs and defendants) on both tort and commercial law issues centered around “mass torts.”

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