After cardiovascular diseases, cancer is the second leading cause of death in America. Since 1990 over half a million Americans have died each year of some form of cance1; and the number and rate is still increasing. In 1970 approximately 17 percent of all deaths were attributed to cancer, while by 1995 the figure had risen to 24 percent. In her chilling book on the meaning of illness in America, Illness as Metaphor, Susan Sontag described cancer as the sickness of the American 20th century. Learning about cancer has become more than a useful chore for those who suffer from the disease or wish to cope with the diseases of family members and loved ones. It is increasingly a matter of cultural literacy to come to understand the workings of a disease whose consequences seem to spare none of us. In the following essay, Frank Gorga, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, summarizes some of the most recent scientific thinking on the basic nature of cancer.

Note on the Author

Frank Gorga is Assistant Professor of Chemical Sciences.