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PBS to air In ‘Cancer: The Emperor of all Maladies’

David Hinckley

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Monday, March 23, 2015, 2:00 AM

IF WE can’t always beat cancer, says Ken Burns, at least we need to strip away some of its psychological power.

“No other disease has the same impact as cancer,” says Burns, executive producer of “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies,” a three-part PBS series that will air March 30-April 1. It’s directed by Barak Goodman and based on a book by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee.

“If you say you have heart disease, which is very serious and kills people every day, it doesn’t have the same effect as saying you have cancer,” says Burns.

Part of the reason for this, he suggests, is that pretty much everyone either has had or knows someone who has had cancer.

“It’s a shared experience,” Burns says. “It connects all of us in a very visceral way.”

And a deeply troubling way.

“No other disease,” says Mukherjee, “carries the same strong sense of betrayal. Your own body, for some reason you don’t understand, is eating you alive.”

What we need to do, they all say, is look at cancer as a serious disease that in an increasing numbers of cases can be beaten.

They also say that contrary to some beliefs, the treatment is not worse than the disease.

“It’s a mythology that most people with cancer die a terrible death,” says Burns. “We’ve made tremendous advances in pain management.”

That aspect of cancer treatment is particularly critical, says Mukherjee, “because it isn’t death we fear. It’s dying. We can take away the pain.”

Unfortunately, cancer probably won’t be cured by a single magic vaccine.

“There are so many types of cancer,” says Burns. “At some point almost all of us may get some form. But we can see a day when most cancers will at worst be manageable conditions not death sentences.”

dhinckley@nydailynews.com

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