Writing a comprehensive book about breast cancer that is also concise and highly readable is no easy task. However, the authors of The Breast Cancer Book: A Trusted Guide for You and Your Loved Ones have done that and more by deftly communicating science and medical content for the lay public. Written by three experts—an oncologist, a breast surgeon, and a two-time breast cancer survivor—this multidisciplinary book takes people with breast cancer through a stepwise journey to help them make the best decisions about diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care. One might question the need for yet another breast cancer book; however, given the rapid pace of new breast cancer therapies and strategies to manage all aspects of challenges into survivorship, this book hits on all the marks, giving it a sense of timely purpose.
Title: The Breast Cancer Book: A Trusted Guide for You and Your Loved Ones
Authors: Kenneth D. Miller, MD, and Melissa Camp, MD, MPH, with Kathy Steligo
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication Date: September 2021
Price: $26.95, hardcover, 456 pages
Well Organized and Highly Readable
The Breast Cancer Book is organized into 5 parts and 24 chapters, leading off with “What Is Cancer?” Explaining the disease itself is a good decision, one that few prior books in this genre have done. Furthermore, it’s done well, using terrific metaphors and never underestimating the audience’s intelligence.
“Cancer develops when genetic damage occurs that the body cannot repair. Acquired abnormalities develop after we grow older, as the wear and tear of living takes its toll on our recuperative abilities and our genetic repair mechanisms do not work as effectively as they used to. Although a small number of cancers are inherited, most are caused by abnormal cellular changes that are acquired by random events or environmental exposures that damage our DNA,” write the authors, with a clarity that remains constant throughout the book.
Part One offers readers a foundational knowledge on which the rest of the book builds. From there, each part takes readers on an informative road from diagnosis of breast cancer to survivorship. The authors make wise use of sidebars to accent and inform the narrative, such as in the section on radiation therapy, which, remarkably is still plagued by myths and misconceptions. Here, the authors do a terrific job elucidating how radiotherapy kills cancer cells, breaking down the various therapeutic options.
Rightly so, the authors don’t shy away from hard discussions about second opinions and the fallibility of certain tests. The discussion is measured and reinforced with evidence-based care models.
We know there is growing evidence to support our understanding that the mind and body are intertwined and bridged by emotions and feelings. It took a remarkably long time for the oncology community to accept the tenants of what we now call complementary and integrative oncology. In chapter 19, the authors give this important issue a full fleshing out, also dealing with so-called alternative medicine, making sure readers understand how unproven cancer therapies in this subgenre have been wrongly conflated into integrative oncology. In the 1980s, many patients with cancer paid huge sums of money to receive laetrile therapy, a compound derived from apricot pits that was billed as a better substitute to chemotherapy, despite studies proving it was nothing more than a hoax.
ASCO has endorsed several evidence-based integrative oncology methods of managing the symptoms and side effects of conventional treatment. To that end, the authors provide a slew of helpful tips on how to find and select a complementary health practitioner.
Body Image and Intimacy
Other subjects in breast cancer books of this scope that typically get short shrift are the multiple challenges in terms of body image and intimacy faced by many patients. In this area, the authors shine, giving straightforward, evidence-based information and tips about breast reconstruction and sexual intimacy. One sidebar, called Dating After Breast Cancer, packs a huge amount of information and advice into a few hundred carefully written words, which is another example of the value-added way this book has been crafted. The authors also include a great section to help patients with breast cancer prepare for the costs and potential financial stress and anxiety of cancer and its treatments. The use of tables and charts makes a difficult issue a lot easier to process.
Tough Conversations and Practical Tips for Survivors
The book’s last two chapters deal with two different, but equally challenging, parts of the breast cancer story: advanced disease and survivorship. Despite our great success in long-term survival outcomes and cure, some patients with breast cancer will not survive. The authors deal with the transition from curative therapy to palliative therapy and hospice, with a firm grip that comes with years of dealing with patients who have end-stage disease.
Although all patients with cancer strive to enter the “survivors club,” there are multiple long-term challenges there as well. The book’s final chapter offers survivors advice, such as diet and exercise tips.
The Breast Cancer Book is a valuable resource for patients, families, and oncologists. It is packed with value-added content and constructed in a highly readable format. Consequently, it is recommended for readers of The ASCO Post.