R Spence et al (eds)
Published by Oxford University Press (2001)
ISBN: 0-19-262982-4. 513 pages plus index.
With one in three people suffering from cancer at some stage in their life, it may be considered self-evident that cancer education would be an important component of medical school curricula. Unfortunately, it is not always the case. The evaluations of oncology education both in Australia and overseas have shown deficiencies in the cancer knowledge of graduates and variability in the oncology curricula1,2.The Oncology Education Committee of The Cancer Council Australia has played a pivotal role in the strengthening of oncology education to medical students in Australia, culminating in 1999 in publication of an Ideal Oncology Curriculum, which provides recommendations for standards of oncology education in Australia. The Ideal Oncology Curriculum does not mandate a specific oncology text, and with the advent of the Internet, it may be argued that textbooks are a thing of the past. Thus the arrival of the new oncology textbook from the Oxford University Press may naturally lead to the question – why another book?
According to the text’s two editors, the text arose as a result of requests from students to provide a comprehensive textbook on cancer management – casting doubt on the claims that textbooks may be passé. The book aims to provide “a comprehensive, single reference taking the patient-centred, disease-oriented approach and covering both principles and system-based approach to cancer that fits with the modern integrated medical curricula”. It seems like an ambitious claim. Yet, despite its small 513-page size, the book packs in a lot of information. Its 25 chapters are grouped into two sections – general principles, including epidemiology, molecular biology, pathology, principles of treatment, palliative care and psychology, and chapters focusing specifically on common cancers. There is a separate chapter on oncological emergencies.
The text, edited by a surgeon and a medical oncologist, has 30 contributors, mostly from Ireland. It is easy to read and extensively illustrated with tables, diagrams, photographs and case scenarios. Each chapter is preceded by an outline and ends with a comprehensive reading list, including Internet resources.
Some important concepts however, seem to be omitted – for example I have not been able to find any mention of quality of life. In contrast to the Ideal Oncology Curriculum, this text devotes much less attention to decision-making, communication or ethics. The latter is mentioned in a three-sentence paragraph entitled ‘ethics of surgical oncology’.
The latest in the cancer therapies, for example monoclonal antibodies, are mentioned only briefly, demonstrating once again that when it comes to the latest information, a textbook begins to date the day it is published. But the reading list offers directions for further exploration and the cases included in most chapters add a useful, more “applied” perspective to the basic knowledge.
Oncology is not without limitations, but it tries to make up for them by its user-friendly layout and good presentation, delivering a broad overview of cancer management that is easy to read, yet reasonably comprehensive. It comes pretty close to fulfilling its ambitious claim and would be a useful addition to a library of not only a medical student but also other health professionals.
1. MB Barton, R Simons. “A survey of cancer curricula in Australian and New Zealand Medical Schools 1997.” Med J Aust, 170 (1999): 225-7.
2. E Robinson, CD Sherman, RR Love (eds). “Cancer education for undergraduate medical students: curricula from around the world.” Geneva: International Union Against Cancer (UICC), 1994