Oxford Textbook of Oncology, Vols 1 and 2 (2nd Edition)


RL Souhami, I Tannock, J-C Horiot (eds)
Published by Oxford University Press (2002)
ISBN: 0-1926-2926-3. 2,851 pages plus index.
RRP: A$1,200.00


The Oxford Textbook of Oncology is a massive work. It is split into two volumes that together measure 283mm by 224mm by 129mm and weigh 8kg. There are 2,851 pages and the index stretches for 64 pages. The list of authors is eight pages long and contains many well-respected authorities predominantly from the UK and Europe.

Like its main competitors, the Oxford Textbook of Oncology is exhaustively comprehensive in its coverage of cancer. There are 20 sections. The first seven cover the basic and clinical sciences of oncology including molecular biology, epidemiology and the scientific basis of cancer treatments. A number of special topics such as cancer in the elderly and long-term follow-up are most welcome. There is also the obligatory section on clinical trial methodology and the interpretation of evidence. The section on quality of life and psychosocial issues has a lucid and useful chapter on complementary medicine. The majority of the work covers the traditional anatomical tumour sites in the remaining 13 sections.

Clearly it is unlikely that any reviewer could thoroughly assess such a work before the next edition was published. I have taken the approach of considering a variety of topics, both familiar and unfamiliar, in an attempt to determine the depth and accuracy of reporting of well-known subjects and the didactic quality of unfamiliar subjects.

Any work of such size and with such diversity of authorship runs the risk of being uneven and fragmented. The editors and publishers have done an excellent job in selecting authors who write well and informatively. The clinical chapters appear to be well-written and thorough but cannot of course, have the depth or scope of texts devoted to a single tumour site. The quality of illustration is uniformly good. All diagrams and graphs have been re-drawn in a clear and accessible manner.

What then is the place of such a massive omnibus? Despite its size, oncologists may find the depth of coverage in some areas less than they need when dealing with unfamiliar problems. The vast complexity of modern oncology means that no practitioner can have up-to-date knowledge in every area. The Oxford Textbook of Oncology provides a ready and accessible reference (as long as you don’t want to carry it too far). All oncology specialist trainees will need to work through a text of this size and scope. Trainees will find it a daunting prospect to read and absorb the large body of knowledge that the OxfordTextbook of Oncology contains. However if a trainee was familiar with a majority of its contents there is no doubt they would have enough knowledge for much of daily clinical practice.

The major competitors to the Oxford Textbook of Oncology are the tomes of similar size, De Vita and Holland’s textbooks from North America. The choice between them is difficult. This reviewer does not wish to do a detailed comparison of a further 16kg and 6,000 pages and such a task is beyond all but the most obsessive purchasers. The decision will have to be made on content, range style and availability.

M Barton
Collaboration for Cancer Outcomes Research and Evaluation
Liverpool Health Service
Liverpool, NSW

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