The best books for understanding why we haven’t cured cancer… yet

The Books I Picked & Why

Cross Everything: A Personal Journey Into the Evolution of Cancer

By Henry Scowcroft

Book cover of Cross Everything: A Personal Journey Into the Evolution of Cancer

Why this book?

I worked alongside Henry at Cancer Research UK for many years and was devastated by the news that his partner Zarah had developed bladder cancer. Part memoir, part scientific odyssey, Cross Everything captures the story behind her treatment and why it ultimately failed to save her life, and what lessons can be learned to help others in the future.


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The Cheating Cell: How Evolution Helps Us Understand and Treat Cancer

By Athena Aktipis

Book cover of The Cheating Cell: How Evolution Helps Us Understand and Treat Cancer

Why this book?

When I interviewed Athena as part of the research for my own book Rebel Cell, I was immediately struck by the way in which she saw deeper, broader connections across the worlds of cancer research, behavioral science, and philosophy. From the strange, knobbly cactuses that she cultivates outside her office to the misbehaving cells in a deadly tumor, Cheating Cell is a fascinating journey through the origins and evolution of cancer from the perspective of a researcher at the cutting edge of the field.


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Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old

By Andrew Steele

Book cover of Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old

Why this book?

Cancer and ageing are inextricably linked, with the risk of cancer increasing significantly over the age of 60, so Andrew’s book about the biology of ageing is very much a companion piece to my own. He digs into the latest scientific research on why and how our cells, tissues, and bodies age, and neatly sifts fact from fiction when it comes to anti-ageing supplements and treatments. His most surprisingly simple piece of advice to help slow the ravages of time? Make sure you clean your teeth!


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Adaptive Oncogenesis: A New Understanding of How Cancer Evolves Inside Us

By James Degregori, Michael Degregori

Book cover of Adaptive Oncogenesis: A New Understanding of How Cancer Evolves Inside Us

Why this book?

Written for a more academic audience than the other books on this list, although still highly readable, I’d recommend Adaptive Oncogenesis for anyone wanting to go deeper into the underlying evolutionary principles that explain why we get cancer when we do. James explores how the disease is fundamentally hardwired into our human biology, how the processes of evolution shape how cancer starts, grows, and spreads through the body, and new ideas for more effective approaches to treatment.


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Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution

By Jonathan B. Losos

Book cover of Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution

Why this book?

On the surface, this fascinating story about the evolutionary journeys of diverse animal species ranging from lizards to porcupines to field mice may seem a strange choice to include in a list of books about cancer, but in fact, it holds many important lessons about how evolution works and how likely we are to get the same outcomes if we ran the tape of time again. In turn, this is vital information underpinning our new understanding of cancer as an evolutionary process within the body, which can potentially be steered through the application of clever treatment strategies to bring about long-term control or even cures.


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