The Emperor of All Maladies: Quotes by S. Mukherjee

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Emperor of All Maladies" by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you looking for The Emperor of All Maladies quotes by Siddhartha Mukherjee? What are some of the most noteworthy passages worth revisiting?

Mukherjee, a doctor and biologist who specializes in immunology and oncology, has spent much of his career on the front line of that fight. Though The Emperor of All Maladies was first published in 2010, cancer remains one of the most frightening diseases of our time, and doctors are still working to fully understand and treat it, despite advances in research and practices.

Below is a selection of quotes highlighting some of the key ideas.

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee is an overview and rough timeline of the fight against cancer.

The following is a selection of The Emperor of All Maladies quotes with explanations.

“Cancer begins and ends with people. In the midst of scientific abstraction, it is sometimes possible to forget this one basic fact.…”

Mukherjee observes that battling cancer is as much a social matter as a medical one. Funding cancer research requires people to first acknowledge that cancer exists (an unpleasant topic that many prefer to ignore), and then recognize that doctors and researchers need vast amounts of funding and resources to combat it. 

Furthermore, preventing cancer often requires us to change our lifestyles and laws: For example, giving up alcohol (a personal change) and carefully regulating pesticides (a legal change) both help reduce the risk of cancer. People are often reluctant to make the necessary changes, or even to believe that they are necessary. Therefore, alongside the scientific and technological advances in cancer research, Mukherjee describes a series of social advances (and setbacks) that helped shape the fight against cancer over the years. 

“Cancer, we now know, is a disease caused by the uncontrolled growth of a single cell.”

Cancer is uncontrolled cell division that begins with just one cell. Mitosis is the process of cells dividing to create new, identical cells—it’s how we grow and how our bodies repair the damage. Normally mitosis is strictly regulated by biological signals that control when it starts and when it stops, but cancerous cells don’t respond correctly to those signals. As a result, they replicate quickly and endlessly, eventually amassing in a tumor.

“Cancer’s life is a recapitulation of the body’s life, its existence a pathological mirror of our own.”

“All cancers are alike but they are alike in a unique way.”

It’s crucial to understand cancer is not a single disease, but a type of disease—for instance, lung cancer and leukemia are both cancers, but they have different causes, symptoms, and treatments. The exact effects of cancer depend on what part or parts of the body it spreads to. For example:

– Lung cancer can stop the patient from taking full breaths or block the body’s ability to absorb oxygen from the lungs.

– Cancer of the stomach or intestines can interfere with appetite, make it hard to keep food down or prevent the body from absorbing nutrients properly.

– Cancer in the bone marrow can stop the body from creating healthy, functional blood cells, which can either make the patient unable to circulate oxygen and nutrients (if red blood cells are affected) or leave the patient vulnerable to infection (if white blood cells are affected). 

The Emperor of All Maladies: Quotes by S. Mukherjee

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  • An overview and rough timeline of the fight against cancer
  • A look into the more technical aspects of cancer and cancer treatment
  • The social aspects of the fight against cancer

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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