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First Cell - Azra Raza - <span class="date-display-single">10/19/2019 - 12:00pm</span>

First Cell

10/19/2019 - 12:00pm

Discovery Building - DeLuca Forum

In the spring of 1998, acclaimed oncologist Azra Raza had been treating leukemia patients for nearly two decades. But it wasn’t until her own husband was diagnosed with, and eventually died from, leukemia that she realized how unbearable the disease could be. From the fear of an unexpected lump, through torrential sweats, horrible lesions, and excruciating pain, to his last moments with their young daughter, Dr. Raza bore witness—as so many have—to her husband’s deterioration at the hands of the disease and the drugs used to treat it. And she did it knowing that his likelihood of survival was close to zero.


Surely twenty years later, the odds of beating cancer have improved greatly – right? Wrong. We spend $150 billion each year treating it, yet – a few innovations notwithstanding – a patient with cancer is as likely to die of it as one was fifty years ago. Nearly two million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer this year and 600,000 will die of it. Most new drugs add mere months to one’s life at agonizing physical and financial cost. Told through the moving, true stories of patients she has treated in the past thirty-five years, this book explores cancer from every angle: medical, scientific, cultural, and personal.


The First Cell is a clarion call for everyone – patients, families, and physicians alike – to reconsider how we approach this most horrible disease. Dr. Raza counters the idea that cancer is a battle that patients must fight bravely. She repudiates the approach, reliant on mouse models of cancer, that biomedical science has taken to attempt to find new treatments and cures. She argues for how science can set its sights on a new era of early detection—not founded on screenings such as mammograms or colonoscopies, which are of little use against the deadliest cancers, but on computer chips—so that, rather than pursuing cancer until we have destroyed the last cell, we have the ability to identify the very first, killing it before it can cause any harm. Lastly, she offers an impassioned plea for a more human approach to treatment, including a frank discussion of suffering and death. Like When Breath Becomes Air, The First Cell is no ordinary book of medicine, but a book of wisdom and grace by an author who has devoted her life to making the unbearable easier to bear. 

Presented in partnership with the Wisconsin Science Festival.

Azra Raza

About Presenter Azra Raza


Azra Raza is the Chan Soon-Shiong Professor of Medicine and Director, MDS Center at Columbia University. In addition to publishing widely in basic and clinical cancer research, Raza is also the coeditor of the highly acclaimed website 3QuarksDaily.com. She and her daughter, Sheherzad, live in New York City.


The First Cell

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