Dr. Ian Tannock
Dr. Ian Tannock poses with the first edition of The Basic Science of Oncology, co-authored by
Dr. Richard Hill in 1987, and the fifth edition, published in 2013. (Photo: UHN)

When Dr. Ian Tannock, Senior Scientist at Princess Margaret, walked through the doors of the 'old' Princess Margaret Hospital (now 'Cancer Centre') in 1976 as a medical resident, he didn't know he'd co-author a book so important to the oncology field, Bob Bell, CEO and President of UHN, would coin the text, the 'Bible' for Oncology in 2013.

In 1987, Tannock and colleague, Dr. Richard Hill, Senior Scientist at Princess Margaret since 1973, co-wrote and published the first edition of The Basic Science of Oncology. With worldwide reach and translations in Japanese, Italian and Greek, close to 20,000 copies of the celebrated text have been sold. The book is used every year by incoming medical and radiation oncology residents at Princess Margaret.

"I used the textbook to teach my residents and fellows," said Dr. Mary Gospodarowicz, medical director, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. "I remember Dr. Tannock writing parts of the first edition of the book in a beach-side villa in Portugal. He took a mini sabbatical to finish the book -- an old idea that should be used more often."

Dr. Richard Hill attributes much of the textbook's success to style consistency throughout the chapters. (Photo: UHN)

A lasting partnership

"Dick hill and I had been teaching basic science to clinicians, mostly medical and radiation oncologists, in training," said Tannock. "Back in the mid-1980s, there wasn't a textbook available we could easily recommend as a source for basic science for clinical medicine."

After the first three editions and an outpouring of positive feedback across the globe, Tannock and Hill invited Dr. Robert Bristow, clinician-scientist at Princess Margaret, and Dr. Lea Harrington, principal investigator at the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer, Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Montreal and former Princess Margaret senior scientist, to co-author editions four and five.

"I used the book as a resident here at Princess Margaret," said Bristow. "It was an invaluable addition to my education -- and now, 15 years later, here I am as an editor and author of the same textbook"!

Hill explains the textbook is set at a relatively basic level, suitable for diverse audiences, ranging from nurses to graduate students.

"We've made a huge effort to ensure style is consistent throughout all of the chapters," said Hill. "Given we have so many authors, it's important that the text can be read in a continuous fashion, but also standalone for the purposes of teaching and delivering lectures."

An oncology legacy

"I now have four versions of the Basic Science 'Bible' for Oncology, said Bell. "The material is inevitably accessible, addresses important strategic issues in cancer research and always reflects the excellent common sense that the authors are known for."

Since the textbook's first printing in 1987, both Tannock and Hill agree the most noticeable changes are the visual elements, explaining that computer-based printing and professional artists have made the text more visually compelling, with vibrant colours and crisp images and figures.

In terms of content, Tannock explained: "It's clear that with time, science has a larger emphasis on molecular genetics so the content reflects that – but it still retains chapters like clinical epidemiology and basic science."

"There's no question there will be major changes and a need to upgrade and modify the book in another 5-10 years," said Hill.

The oncology community will cross its fingers for Bristow and Harrington to continue Tannock and Hill's legacy.

Purchase a copy of The Basic Science of Oncology on Amazon.ca.

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