Cancer: The Emperor of All MaladiesHDClosed Captioning
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Ken Burns presents this three-part film telling the comprehensive story of cancer, from its first description in an ancient Egyptian scroll to the gleaming laboratories of modern research institutions. The six-hour film interweaves a sweeping historical narrative with intimate stories about contemporary patients, and an investigation into the latest scientific breakthroughs that may have brought us, at long last, within sight of lasting cures.
|1||HDClosed CaptioningVideoMagic Bullets||The search for a "cure" for cancer is the greatest epic in the history of science, spanning centuries and continents. This episode follows that centuries-long search, but centers on the story of Sidney Farber, who, defying conventional wisdom in the late 1940s, introduces the modern era of chemotherapy, eventually galvanizing a "war on cancer." Interwoven with Farber’s narrative is the contemporary story of a 14-month-old diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The film follows her as she and her parents struggle with the many hardships and decisions foisted upon a cancer patient.||1:51:33||$5.99||View in iTunes|
|2||HDClosed CaptioningVideoThe Blind Men and the Elephant||This episode picks up the story in the wake of the declaration of a "war on cancer" by Richard Nixon in 1971 and the search for a cure. In the lab, rapid progress is made in understanding the essential nature of the cancer cell, leading to the revolutionary discovery of the genetic basis of cancer, but few new therapies become available. Not until the late 1990s do advances in research begin to translate into more precise targeted therapies with breakthrough drugs. Following the history during these fraught decades, the film intertwines the contemporary story of an oncologist diagnosed with breast cancer. Her emotional and physical struggles provide a bracing counterpoint to the historical narrative.||1:52:30||$5.99||View in iTunes|
|3||HDClosed CaptioningVideoFinding the Achilles Heel||This episode starts at a moment of optimism: Scientists believe they have cracked the mystery of the malignant cell, and the first targeted therapies have been developed. But very quickly cancer reveals new layers of complexity and a formidable array of defenses. Many call for a new focus on prevention and early detection as the most promising fronts in the war on cancer. By the second decade of the 2000s, the bewildering complexity of the cancer cell yields to a more ordered picture, revealing new vulnerabilities and avenues of attack. Perhaps most exciting is the prospect of harnessing the human immune system to defeat cancer. A 60-year-old NASCAR mechanic with melanoma and a six-year-old with leukemia are pioneers in new immunotherapy treatments, which the documentary follows as their stories unfold.||1:52:48||$5.99||View in iTunes|
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Excellent, but very US-focused
The book "Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies" was of great importance in educating the public on the advances that have been made in the understanding and treatment of cancers. Yet, one valid criticism was that it was very focused on the research being performed in the US, and did not fully represent the advances being made world-wide. This documentary series could have redressed this imbalance, but failed to do so. In fact, it only added to it.
One very obvious example - the amount of time spent discussing the HPV vaccine (marketed as Gardasil, and developed by the group led by Prof. Ian Frazer, an Australian academic). This has to be one of the most profound advances in cancer therapy, with the vaccine giving 100% protection against the HPV types 16 and 18 (which cause the vast majority of cervical cancers). My guess would be that less than one minute was spent on this topic, and Prof. Frazer's name was not mentioned even once. Almost immediately afterward, a three-four minute vignette was presented on Katie Couric's efforts to encourage people to have a colonoscopy. This parochialism benefits no-one, especially the audience.
This is a must see for anyone interested in the history and/or potential cure for cancer. It is so well done. I would have given it 6 stars, if that was an option.