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The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer
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The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  919 ratings  ·  113 reviews
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Good Nurse comes an empowering and accessible story of the discoveries of the tricks cancer uses to avoid the immune system, and the important new therapies already unleashing the immune system to fight -- and beat -- the disease.
Four years in the writing, The Breakthrough is an "exciting read" about the discoveries which
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published November 13th 2018 by Twelve
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May 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: available
I have long thought that one day chemo would be thought of in much the same way as "bleeding" patients is thought of today, and Immunotherapy was going to be the much more benign and effective therapy of the future. I was surprised to learn about all all the very serious and dangerous side effects that also accompany immunotherapy. ...more
Dec 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book on recommendation from Nature Books & Arts, and subsequently a number of prominent scientists I follow on Twitter have also listed this as one of their to-reads of the year, and I certainly understand why. The book, not unlike front-line research in immunology, is written at a breakneck pace right from the very start. Graeber addresses a complicated scientific topic well in my opinion, the language used was accessible and not overly technical, but pitched with sufficient depth ...more
Jan 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
Unfortunately I was let down by this book. It started off strong and my favourite part of the story of Cancer Immunotherapy told by Graeber was the first few chapters, detailing the slow acknowledgement of the relationship between the Immune System and Cancer. I also enjoyed the journeys of the patients detailed in the book, how the discoveries of scientists in the lab ultimately helped their quality of life.

What I didn’t like was how the rest of the book played out and some of the slight opinio
Ritu Mantri
Jun 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Breakthrough is such an important book for the layman to understand about Cancer, our immune system and about Immunotherapy, an alternative treatment of cancer.

Most of us know that the treatment of cancer is surgery and then radiation and chemotherapy, which the author explains as cut, burn and poison treatment.

But few might know that the answer to cancer is within our immune system and scientists and researchers, who believes in this, have been slogging for years to activate those fighter a
Am Y
Jun 25, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Huge spoiler: There's no real "breakthrough" here. I thought my Stage 3B cancer-stricken husband now had a glimmer of hope, but having read this from cover to cover, I can confirm this book's title is but a (probably very successful) marketing ploy.

Long story short: immunotherapy is one of the newest cancer treatments available, but it still is nowhere near any form of cure, and nowhere as revolutionary as the word "breakthrough" suggests. Patients treated with various immunotherapy drugs t
Scribe Publications
Only Graeber, one of America’s greatest non-fiction writers, could take a subject so complex, dense and sprawling and turn it into a rollicking high-tension medical thriller. Masterful.
Douglas Rogers, award-winning journalist and author of The Last Resort

A gripping chronicle of the 100-year overnight success of immunotherapy. For myself and millions of other cancer survivors, The Breakthrough is a book of immense and essential hope.
Michael Fitzgerald, co-founder and CEO of Submittable, and autho
Left Coast Justin
Feb 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: medical
I was fully prepared not to like this book, but that's because (as I discovered) I'm kind of a snob and a jerk, not because there was anything wrong with the book itself.

I had noticed that the author, Charles Graeber, had risen to fame after writing a book about a nurse who killed hundreds of patients. I assumed this meant that the book was sensationalized, and that this book might suffer the same problem. I had no evidence for this, of course, and what I found upon reading 'The Breakthrough' is
Christina Dudley
This was a fast and so-encouraging read about the incredible breakthroughs in cancer immunology. If there's ever a best time to get cancer, it's probably now, only to be exceeded by getting it five years from now because the field is advancing so quickly. Graeber does a clear job of explaining how we are learning to harness our bodies' own immune systems to attack cancerous cells and out-trick the trickster. All this time, cancer cells have been hiding under the radar of our immune systems, hija ...more
Visnja Zeljeznjak
Jan 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Amazing, fascinating history of cancer immunotherapy, starting in late 19th century and leading up to the breakthrough in the modern day (2018). Immunotherapy is dubbed "cancer's penicilin moment" and this book explains why scientists, researchers, and cancer survivors are increasingly hopeful of this new cancer treatment. The book reads like a science thriller, it has main actors and supporting actors, and you immediately start to care about their fates, good and bad; it has strange twists and ...more
Aug 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Heartwarming & heartbreaking—Graeber humanizes the scientific discovery and journey of immunotherapy. It’s a good balance of story and science. The science especially is broken down to a comprehensible level for anyone who isn’t in the health/science field, so if you’re looking to learn a little about this topic but are not looking for a dense read, this is the perfect book. It is thorough but never overwhelming. Graeber certainly doesn’t cover every aspect of immunotherapy (it’s a very broad an ...more
Manja W
Jan 26, 2021 rated it really liked it
The book title made me more hopeful than I am after reading this book. With the explanation on p. 164, the author clarified why the title suits the story: "The breakthrough is a door, now open; the beginning, but not yet the cure." Cancer immunotherapy is a door, but we will still have to go through it. This story is full of hope, an emotional book of few people cured from cancer. But if you read between the lines, you sadly learn that there are still way too many people who do not succeed. I wa ...more
Alina Lucia
Apr 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Great book on the history of the progress made in cancer immunotherapy, from the 50's up to today. Suitable for people with little to no knowledge of molecular biology, but also to those in the field, offering a contextual perspective on the research that was done. ...more
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book tells of the recent progress in the race to cure cancer through immunotherapy. It also gives an accounting of the history of research into the fight against cancer and the politics in the scientific community.

This is a book worth reading!!!
Nov 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Lately, I’ve developed an interest in medicine science, cell biology, cancer research, etc. - especially after reading Siddhartha Mukherjee’s ‘Emperor of all Maladies’ on cancer, which I really liked. So when I came across a review of this book, I instantly added it to my to-read list, and it turned out to be another good read.

‘The Breakthrough’ came out just last year. It talks about the progress in cancer immunotherapy research over the decades, and the cutting-edge work going on in the field
Peter Tillman
Science magazine review:
"In The Breakthrough, journalist Charles Graeber tells the story of how we may finally slay the beast. The “breakthrough” referenced in the title is not a single drug or treatment but a series of revelations regarding how the body’s immune system regulates itself and how cancer can hijack it to avoid our defenses. This, Graeber argues, is cancer’s “penicillin moment,” opening the door to a radically new therapeutic approach
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Latest and Greatest

The latest exciting area of cancer research is immunotherapy. Checkpoint inhibition which works on T cells along with targeted therapy (not immunological) are just right for certain cancers.

The checkpoint inhibition which stops the blocking of the immune system is used and has decent results on some solid cell cancers such as melanoma and lung cancer with more research ongoing for bladder& others.

For some it is a magical “cure” and for others it can unleash a troublesome auto
Maggie Dubris
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a dense but fascinating book. First off, if you have friends/relatives/self with cancer, it gives a huge amount of scientifically-based hope of not only a remission, but possible cure. The narrative style works well. The author mixes anecdotes about patients and scientists with some difficult specifics of the immune system. Though I had to reread the hard science parts several times, it's the first time I've actually got a real picture of what we know about how the immune system works, a ...more
Nov 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
At many points, the book is truly inspirational and moving. The overall history of immunotherapy is well documented, and Graeber lays out his explanations well -- it is truly fascinating on how our knowledge of the immune system/cancer has changed.

There does seem to be some bias (naturally) in the story, with the strong view that immunotherapy is going to be the "breakthrough" against cancer, but that does not detract from the story.
Jul 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
First book I read about cancer and immunotherapy. I learned some amazing things. I think the author did justice to the title.

Reading this made me think of the psalm: “I praise you, because I am wonderfully made...”
Vivek Natarajan
Sep 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A most fascinating and riveting tale of how immunotherapy evolved to be one of the most promising avenues for curing cancer. A must read!
Cenk Undey
Feb 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Great story of the first chapters of cancer immunotherapy.
Kunal Sen
May 07, 2020 rated it liked it
An eye opening and hopeful book about a mode of cancer treatment that took many decades to establish itself, but showing tremendous promise in the last few years. Best of all, it uses our own immune system to fight the disease and also explains many spontaneous recovery anecdotes which are often attributed to bogus treatments.

The story it tells is exciting and often reads like a thriller. However, that is also its weakness. The author tries too hard to make the book exciting and to get the read
David Rubenstein
Apr 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It seems odd to review a book that is so far ahead of my learning, but I will note that this is one of the best science books I have ever held. It is particularly well written and is easy to read with the perfect amount of detail and background

The author tells a compelling story of the long-term research behind using the human immune system to fight (and potentially beat) cancer; it weaves in personal stories of doctors, patients, and advocates without becoming maudlin or heroic; it presents a b
Dec 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book - my PhD research is on CAR-T cell immunotherapy so it was great to learn more about the history and early discoveries in this field. However, I found the use of notes at the end of the book really annoying as I had to keep flipping to the back of the book. There were also numerous typos in the book - AstroZeneca? Finally, the final chapter mentioning religion so much was an interesting choice from the author and I'm not sure that it was the strongest conclusion. ...more
John  Trident
May 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The breakthrough

My grandmother passed away 3 years ago when I was pursuing my engineering career. Later did I come to know that she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer & has been battling it for quite sometime. However, unfortunately she couldn't make it out. This book helped me understand not only the current state of the newest advances in immunological research, but also physical, mental, psychological issues & changes which takes place in the body of the person contracted with the disease. Th
Scribe Publications
Only Graeber, one of America’s greatest non-fiction writers, could take a subject so complex, dense and sprawling and turn it into a rollicking high-tension medical thriller. Masterful.
Douglad Rogers, award-winning journalist and author of The Last Resort

A gripping chronicle of the 100-year overnight success of immunotherapy. For myself and millions of other cancer survivors, The Breakthrough is a book of immense and essential hope.
Michael Fitzgerald, co-founder and CEO of Submittable, and autho
Pacific Lee
Nov 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
The introduction outlines the reason why this book was necessary. The Emperor of All Maladies had successfully traced the biography of cancer up to 2010, but that was five months before the first immunotherapeutic drug was even FDA approved. Graeber sets out to create a sequel of sorts, describing the exciting breakthroughs that have been happening and including a bit of historical perspective as well.

In my view, the excitement and curiosity all starts with recognizing the fact that spontaneous
Sam Still Reading
Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those interested in cancer or immunology
Recommended to Sam Still Reading by: sounded interesting
There are a lot of exciting advances in medicine, but surely none are as exciting and game changing as cancer immunotherapy. (Perhaps I am a little biased though having seen these treatments in action). Immunotherapy is not chemotherapy, but utilises new research breakthroughs to help allow the immune system to see cancer as something foreign and fight it. Unfortunately, it won’t help every cancer (some look more like foreign monsters to the immune system, others look like something normal) but ...more
Sep 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Break old habits. Break through.

That’s the biggest takeaway from Charles Graeber’s “The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer.” I have encountered many scientists that have biases due to their scientific “beliefs”. I may be guilty of such biases myself. This book, about the discovery and development of Immunotherapy, paints a striking example of how our personal biases must be set aside in order to create a scientific breakthrough. It starts with Dr. William Coley in the 1890s,
Karel Baloun
Dec 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
“Seven years after the approval of that first solitary checkpoint inhibitor there are reportedly 940 new cancer immunotherapy drugs being tested in the clinic by more than half a million cancer patients in 3042 clinical trials, with another 1064 new drugs in the labs in pre-clinical phase.“ (P6). Less than half of patients respond, at this time, but profound lifetime positive results when they do.

Includes an excellent, concise summary of how the immune system works!

Ironic that the Nobel laureat
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Charles Graeber is an award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author of THE GOOD NURSE: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder (published by Twelve).

He is also a contributor to numerous publications including Wired, The New Yorker, GQ, New York Magazine, Outside Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek and The New York Times. His writing has been honored with the Overseas Press Clu

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