Book Review: Breakthrough

My dear friend, Emily Garnett, had the author of Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer, Charles Graeber, on her podcast earlier this year and if you aren’t already listening to her podcast, The Intersection of Cancer and Life, you should start immediately. 😉. It’s available through the podcast application on my iPhone and I wait anxiously to listen to each new episode. Anyway, I’m super interested in Immunotherapy since it seems to have some promise for the treatment of cancer and I immediately purchased his books while listening to the podcast. Yes, his previous book, The Good Nurse, is insanely well written as well.

A pretty important question is why our immune system does not recognize and kill cancer cells like it does the common cold. Scientists have been baffled by this question for a very long time and they still don’t fully know. In this book, the author utilizes records and real life anecdotal and other evidence to trace the key players and the perception of Immunotherapy from the early 1900s to present.

The pictures, information and evidence the author gathered is then weaved together into an easy to read and follow narrative. At some points, it’s almost easy to forget that the book is non-fiction! In hindsight, it is clear to see the progression of research and how scientists looking at different parts of the puzzle come to differing conclusions or how the research in one lab built off the research in another lab or overlapped, etc. In the throes of the research, scientists often didn’t know what they knew or didn’t know. Trials were designed using the wrong criteria. Patients who never expected to live were thriving and finding out that fact was sometimes accidental.

Sometimes, as a patient, it is troubling to be shown clearly, logically and irrefutably that doctors and scientists are people too. They get tunnel vision. They are affected by the opinions of the establishment. They miss connections. They ask a million wrong questions before they ask the right one.


Yes, it’s not a good thing to be reminded of how all people are fallible.

Yet, it’s also a good thing to see that even if something is debunked; even if the established thinkers/leaders think an idea is bunk, the truth will out.

There were sufficient scientists and a drug company or two willing to invest some money into the idea and Thank God they did. Immunotherapy is looking more and more viable the more each part of the equation is studied. The breakthroughs in targeted therapy over the last decade or so has certainly helped.

Bottom line, there is no cure for cancer yet. At the same time, Immunotherapy and other hot topics are the ones to watch as we get closer and closer.

Pick up Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. You won’t be sorry! It’s riveting.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Breakthrough

  1. Great review. I always enjoy your writing — even when it is about someone else’s writing! I am hopeful about immunotherapy but I admittedly no little about it all. I also think that something else you said can’t be stressed enough — doctors are only human. How anyone can be an oncologist I will never know but am just thankful there are such souls.

    Liked by 2 people

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