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The First Cell: And the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  76 ratings  ·  30 reviews
With the fascinating scholarship of The Emperor of All Maladies and the deeply personal experience of When Breath Becomes Air, a world-class oncologist examines the current state of cancer and its devastating impact on the individuals it affects -- including herself.
We have lost the war on cancer. We spend $150 billion each year treating it, yet -- a few innovations notwithstanding -- a pa
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published October 15th 2019 by Basic Books
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Aamir Jafarey
Aug 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Aamir Jafarey, Karachi Pakistan
I found the reading of “The First Cell” unnervingly disturbing, to the point that I had to put the book down periodically to let myself ‘recover’. I cannot even imagine what Azra Raza must have gone through personally in putting to paper her own extremely private thoughts, and those of the contributors, who found the courage to share their immense pain with unknown readers through this narrative.
While Raza has a clear mission, that of advocating a fresh appr
Syed T.
Aug 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In her remarkable book “The First Cell,” Azra has been brutally honest at every level. President Nixon declared “War on Cancer” in 1972, but as shown in this book there has been little improvement in the prognosis of most cancers. The only decline in the death rates from cancer we have seen are due to early diagnosis from routine screening and the ability to treat cancers at such an early stage. Yet we hear of new miracle cures, transformational new drugs and so on frequently, followed by the sa ...more
Mrs. Danvers
This book reflects some very important thinking about the deficiencies in the way that cancer drug research is performed in this country and recommendations for a different protocol, and I totally buy what she says.

Unfortunately, it also is very detailed about the molecular mechanisms in a way that is difficult for the layman to follow. The more powerful statement is the simple one, the one she tells in stories about her patients. Here, too, though, it is sometimes hard to connect the human sto
Syed Mohammad
Aug 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Cancer has impacted everyone on this planet in some way, and this book offers hope while also reflecting how medicine needs to reevaluate how it tackles this disease. Through this book, it is clear that the author deeply cares about her patients, and it is an inspiring and sobering read at the same time.
Curt Worden
Aug 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
After reading The First Cell, I realized how I’ve misunderstood the misguided war on cancer. Dr. Azra Raza has written a powerful and insightful book drawing from the passion for her work, and being a firsthand witness to the human impact of this disease. A range of emotions are present; from the stories of patients and their families who show extraordinary strength and determination, to the frustration of the unjust realities present in the “business” of cancer.

Beautifully written w
Michelle Hopkins
Oct 19, 2019 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the first half very much. It got repetitive, I thought, in the second half, confusing in spots, a little syrupy for my taste (everyone was her dearest friend) and a little too strident in tone. I guess she wrote that part more for the people she has seen as opponents since 1984. Still, highly illuminating and I am highly sympathetic to the views she expresses, especially how nominally many people benefit from radiation and chemo, yet how tortured they are physically and financially.
Cindy Lauren
Sep 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Love this book, truly. Wasn't sure what to expect and did also love Emperor of All Maladies.This gives a new, exciting, if painful, perspective on the whole cancer landscape. From her own first professional, then intensely personal experience with the relentlessness of the disease, the author is exemplary is her discussions.

Her detailed knowledge of the process of disease, diagnosis and treatment mirrors the clusterfuck having cancer in this day and age really is. From the pursuit of a cure - s
Amera Raza
Aug 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
It is a beautifully written, easily understandable, emotionally stirring, and yet soundly- supplemented -with -scientific -data, book. One gets a lot of basic information about cancer as a disease, how it develops and affects its victims, it’s current and past treatment strategies and challenges and best of all select patients’ and their care givers’ personal accounts of how they feel, face and handle this harrowing disease. Azra’s main thrust is of course on how some of the cancer treatment and ...more
Bruin Mccon
Oct 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
“We are all tested. But it is never in the way we prefer, not at the time we expect.”—Dr. Azra Raza’s husband, Harvey, discussing the disease that killed him

“The prevention I am talking about is through identification and eradication of transformed cancerous cells at their inception, before they have had a chance to organize into a bona fide malignant, incurable disease.”

Are current methods to treat cancer making a difference in the lives of patients? The First Cell would say
Jennifer Bentley
Nov 06, 2019 rated it liked it
How much do you not want to die? Author Azra Reza challenges us to think deeply about what the cost of an extra six weeks or six rounds of treatment would really mean. Is it worth putting your family's financial security on the line to extend your life, if only for a few weeks? I guess this could be a depressing thought, but she philosophizes on death and life... James Baldwin (one of my favorite authors) is quoted heavily and I loved her initial chapters about how the west views death (by avoid ...more
Jill Meyer
Nov 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Dr Azra Raza is a Pakistani-born oncologist, who has lived and practiced medicine in the US since she graduated from medical school. She's from a family of doctors and was married to an oncologist, who died of cancer. Raza has many ideas about cancer; it's origins and the treatment of the patient. She has a beautifully written book, "The First Cell: And the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last".

Azra Raza's book is the latest in books by doctors about cancer. Many people have re
Ginger Hudock
Oct 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Raza is an oncologist who has had a first-hand look at cancer through the eyes of both her patients and her husband, who died of cancer. She has seen death up close through these patients and recounts the stories of a number of them. This book is a personal memoir but is also a great discussion of the history of cancer research and treatment. Raza sees that most research funding has not been very well spent. Drugs have been developed that cost huge amounts of money, have many negative side effec ...more
Oct 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Columbia University oncologist and cancer researcher Azra Raza is angry—angry about the current “protocol of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation—the slash-poison-burn approach to treating cancer” which she calls “an embarrassment”; angry about the state of cancer research, which prioritizes mouse models and animal cancer research over research to “prevent the appearance of the first cancer cell by finding its earliest footprints”; angry about the cancer deaths of her patients and, most personal ...more
Elaine Meis
Oct 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a magnificent book! It had a profound impact on me, as I’m sure it must on everyone. It is so beautifully written, so literary, so personal and yet so universal, such a deep look into the depths of Dr. Raza’s soul and her mission that I often had to put it down to stop crying or to recover from the intense emotions Dr. Raza brings forth with her words and stories of what cancer patients must endure. The purpose of these stories is not to revel in suffering but to shake up the public by s ...more
Abdullah M.
Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The First Cell is an exceptional piece of work by a caring doctor, brilliant scientist, a public speaker, a mentor for countless students, and an eloquent writer who is also a widow of a cancer victim. As one can imagine someone wearing so many hats and with 35+ years in the field of oncology brings a lot of experience with her. In this book, Dr. Raza channeled all that experience and energy to bring the state of cancer care with scientific facts, opinion, and advice nicely weaved with patients ...more
Nov 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I found this book profoundly moving and compelling, and I highly recommend it. It's a cry for changing the culture of cancer research from a focus on developing treatments that extend survival by a few weeks to months to a greater focus on prevention and early detection. It's the story of her own life journey as an oncologist and the story of her patients, including her own husband's story as a cancer patient. As someone involved and invested in cancer research, it inspired me to do all I can to ...more
Oct 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Poetic. Thought-provoking. Impossible to put down. These are not the words I expected to write in a review of a book written by a person expert in and deeply experienced with cancer in her career and in her marriage. In the excellent THE FIRST CELL, Raza succeeds brilliantly in shining a clear light into the approach, process, and system of cancer treatment. For all the supposed advances in the battle of this devious, complex, changeable malady, there have been few significant advances in haltin ...more
S. Abbas
Aug 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This excellent book by a leading oncology researcher and physician makes the argument that the strategy of searching for the last cancer cell in the body and eliminating it has not resulted in much progress since the "war on cancer" was declared in the early 1970s under the Nixon administration in America. Instead, with all the new tools at our disposal, perhaps we should be focusing more on early detection and looking for the first cancer cells in the body. It is a scientific argument persuasively a ...more
Aldo J. Marchioni
Important message obscured by less than coherent writing

The author makes a very good case for the concise recommendation to shift funding for cancer research toward early detection rather than late treatment. Unfortunately the basis for this well thought out recommendation is clouded over by extraneous and anecdotal personal stories of cancer patients experience of suffering the ravages of treatment and disease progression. The author also diminishes the validity of her message by an often hap
Kendra Seth
Aug 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The First Cell by Dr Azra Raza is by far the most compelling & educational book on cancer I have ever read. Dr Raza writes so eloquently about her own personal journey through cancer which provides a great understanding for the reader to appreciate how committed she is to finding a cure tor her patients. This book is a call to action for all of us who have been touched by cancer or know/love someone who has — there is so much more we can do if we maximize all the research & resources ava ...more
Jennifer Schultz
Nov 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read if you: Want an intellectual and deeply moving look at the ways we have been failed by cancer research and treatment.

Although this can be a rigorous read at times because of the medical terminology, this is still a heartrending account of why cancer treatment has not fully advanced in recent years. Dr. Raza’s impassioned plea for better research and treatment is deeply personal, as she suffered the agonizing loss of her beloved husband. This is an elegant, eye-opening, infuriating, and ins
Aug 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Received in a Goodreads giveaway. An interesting read, to say the least. It's refreshing to see someone acknowledge that doctors gloss over the patients' suffering, as if it doesn't exist. And to have someone point out that cancer treatments have stagnated, despite the amount of research, really opens ones eyes to the lack of knowledge we really have.

It seems we've become complacent. I've mistakenly thought that we've made so much more progress than we really have, and while it is hard to be fa
Anna Eden
Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways
I received this book through a giveaway and was encouraged to write a review.
As a medical student interested in pediatric oncology, this book resonated with me deeply. Hearing the stories of so many patients, and the struggles that continue as we push to find that “cure for cancer” provoked a lot of thought as I read. Her personal connection to so many patients was hard to swallow at times, but reminded me why I want to become an oncologist in the future. Some of the language was a bit tec
Mark P
Aug 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Rare when the logic of science and raw human emotion collide to work hand in hand to potentially change the future of millions of people across the globe. Anyone who has been affected by the demon of Cancer should read this book. You will immediately gain a better understanding of the horror your loved ones suffered and see how the philosophy of the medical world must change. I know, Azra's husband, Dr. Harvey Preisler, is my father.
Joann Amidon
Nov 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Extensive research and case studies provide valuable information about cancer and its treatment. At times it was too much information for me but that does not take away from its importance in the field.
Oct 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
4.5 rounded up
Nov 08, 2019 rated it liked it
A little too much medical jargon for my preferences. From what I did read, I was impressed by the author’s argument.
Aug 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I won this in a Goodreads giveaway.
A very personal and powerful book. Eye opening on the failure to make progress in the treatment of cancer.
Oct 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Most depressing book ever and a fierce reminder that nobody gets off this planet alive.
Brian Miller
Sep 20, 2019 rated it liked it
A well written book about a physician who treats cancer but thinks the way we are doing things is not always best for the patient. Her patients become family to her and I hope if I ever get cancer, my oncologist cares for me in the same way. One thing that stuck with me is the use of chemo. She seems to think that poisoning the body to maybe gain another few months of life at the expense living your last few months the way you want without toxins flowing through your body resonated with me. She ...more
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