PBS Airs Cancer Documentary Based on Pulitzer Prize-Winning Book

A three-part, six-hour documentary series based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning cancer biography written by P&S faculty member Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, aired on PBS March 30, March 31, and April 1.

The documentary, based on the book “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” (Simon & Schuster, 2010), was directed by Columbia journalism alumnus Barak Goodman and executive produced by Ken Burns. It was part of a comprehensive national campaign with Stand Up To Cancer and other project supporters.

Dr. Mukherjee is assistant professor of medicine at P&S. The book and documentary tell the story of cancer from its first description in an ancient Egyptian scroll (the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus at New York Academy of Medicine) to the gleaming laboratories of modern research institutions. The film combined a sweeping historical narrative, intimate stories about contemporary patients, and an investigation into the latest scientific breakthroughs.

In conjunction with the documentary, Columbia University hosted a panel discussion in Low Library March 24 that featured cancer specialists from Columbia, UCLA, and Johns Hopkins, who briefed the news media on advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. The event is available on YouTube at bit.ly/Columbiacancerdiscussion.

The documentary included interviews with these P&S alumni: Jerome Groopman’76, James Holland’47, David Loeb’94 MD/PhD, and Harold Varmus’66. The film also discussed the work of William Halsted, an 1877 P&S graduate who was on the P&S faculty before moving to Johns Hopkins and developing radical mastectomy as a treatment for breast cancer.

Information about cancer care and research at Columbia is available at www.columbia.edu/cancer. The PBS documentary is available online at www.pbs.org.