Cancer has always been with us. It killed our hominid ancestors, the mammals they evolved from and the dinosaurs that trampled the ground before that. Tumours grow in pets, livestock and wild animals. Even tiny jelly-like Hydra – creatures that are little more than a tube full of water – can get cancer. Paradoxically, many of us think of cancer as a contemporary killer, a disease of our own making caused by our modern lifestyles. But that's not true. Although it might be rare in many species, cancer is the enemy lurking within almost every living creature. Why? Because cancer is a bug in the system of life. We get cancer because we can't not get it.
Cancer starts when cells revolt, throwing off their molecular shackles, and growing and dividing out of control in a shambolic mockery of normal life. This is why we can't avoid cancer: because the very genes that drive it are essential for life itself. The revolution has raged, on and off, for millions of years. But it was only in the twentieth century that doctors and scientists made any significant progress in understanding and treating cancer, and it's only in the past few decades that we've finally begun to kick the mob's malignant arse. Now the game is changing. Scientists have infiltrated cancer's cellular rebellion and are finally learning its secrets.
Geneticist and science writer Kat Arney takes the reader back to the dawn of life on planet earth right up to the present day to get to the heart of what cancer really is and how by better understanding it we might one day overcome it.
Kat Arney is an award-winning science writer, broadcaster and public speaker, and is the founder and Creative Director of science communications and media consultancy First Create The Media. She is the author of Rebel Cell: Cancer, Evolution and the Science of Life (W&N, 2020), How to Code a Human (Andre Deutsch, 2017) and the critically acclaimed Herding Hemingway’s Cats: Understanding how Our Genes Work (Bloomsbury Sigma, 2016).
Kat holds a bachelor's degree in natural sciences and a PhD in developmental genetics from Cambridge University and has spent more than 15 years working in science journalism and communication. She was a key part of the science communications team at Cancer Research UK for more than a decade, co-founding the charity's award-winning Science Blog, and acting as a principal national and international media spokesperson.
Her writing has featured in Wired, BBC Online, the Daily Mail, the Times Educational Supplement, The Guardian Online, Nature, Mosaic, the New Scientist and more. Kat also presents the popular Genetics Unzipped podcast for The Genetics Society, has fronted several BBC Radio 4 science documentaries and made the comedy factual series Did the Victorians Ruin the World? with her sister, comedian Helen Arney. She is a former co-host of the Naked Scientists radio show and podcast, and presented the Naked Genetics podcasts for many years.
"This book is packed with big ideas about life. Every chapter has something in it which made me think wow. Having worked in a major cancer charity for many years, Arney writes with genuine in-depth understanding and is a perfect guide."
– Daniel M. Davis, author of The Beautiful Cure
"Rebel Cell is a bright, engaging read, fizzing with energy and metaphor. Kat Arney is a science writer for all of us – a powerful and talented story teller."
– Stephen McGann
"Kat's book is dynamite. A crystal clear reappraisal of the story behind that word we fear to mention."
– Dallas Campbell, author of Ad Astra: An Illustrated Guide to Leaving the Planet
"Forget magic bullets and much hyped miracle cures, to improve the chances of cancer patients we need revolutionary new thinking. And that new thinking, Arney forcefully argues, is evolutionary. She not only places cancer in its evolutionary context but shows how understanding a cancer as an evolving entity leads to new therapeutic approaches that work. This lively, scholarly and accessible book should be essential reading."
– Professor Laurence D Hurst, President of the Genetics Society
"Better than just a history or scientific rundown of cancer, Kat Arney presents a philosophy for how to think about cancer."
– Zach Weinersmith author of Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That Will Improve and/or Ruin Everything
"Kat Arney does it again: taking the complex and making it easy to grasp, demystifying the mysterious, asking the right questions and finding the surprising answers – and all with rollicking good humour and bonhomie. The war on cancer would itself be far more advanced if its practitioners knew how to communicate with us and each other as well as Kat does in this mind-thrilling page turner."
– Mark Stevenson, futurist and author of We Do Things Differently: The Outsiders Rebooting Our World
"A lively study of the Big C, which makes the case that cancer is the price we pay for our marvellously complicated bodies."
– The Times