Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies

It is one of the longest running wars in human history. Fought with razor-sharp scalpels, invisible rays, and lethal poisons, its battlegrounds are deep within the human cell. Its casualties number in the hundreds of millions – nearly one in two men, and one in three women will fight cancer directly; nearly all of us will feel its collateral damage.

The story of the war on cancer spans centuries and continents. It is a scientific story, but also a deeply human one: of doctors, researchers, and especially patients who - through courage, suffering, and occasional hubris - pushed the boundaries of knowledge. These people helped define cancer as the scourge of the modern age, and then mobilized the federal government and private industry to wage an all-out campaign against it - a campaign we are still fighting.

Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Siddhartha Mukherjee, tells the complete story of cancer, from its first description in an ancient Egyptian scroll to the gleaming laboratories of modern research institutions. At six hours, the film interweaves a sweeping historical narrative; with intimate stories about contemporary patients; and an investigation into the latest scientific breakthroughs that may have brought us, at long last, to the brink of lasting cures.

Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies is directed by Barak Goodman and Executive Produced by Ken Burns, who is also the senior creative consultant. The film is written by Geoffrey Ward. Ken Burns, Barak Goodman and David Blistein. Executive Producers are Burns, Dalton Delan, David Thompson, and Pamela Williams.


Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies Funders

Screenings and Discussions

Panel Discussion and Screening
At the Idea Center at PlayhouseSquare
Thursday, March 26, 2015 from 5:00-7:00 p.m.

Share Your Cancer Story

Submit a personal story about the impact of cancer on your life. Read, share and connect through the shared stories of others.

Series Website

The interactive website includes a mixture of produced and user-generated content exploring the three aspects of the series: a riveting historical documentary, an engrossing and intimate vérité film that focuses on current patients, and a scientific report.

Episode Descriptions

Episode One centers on the story of Sidney Farber’s evolution from obscure pathologist in the basement of Boston Children’s Hospital to renowned scientist (the “father of chemotherapy”), and powerful public advocate who, together with the philanthropist Mary Lasker, galvanizes the federal government’s War on Cancer.

Episode Two chronicles the vital decades between the declaration of the federal government’s War on Cancer in 1971, and the breakthrough drugs Herceptin and Gleevec in 2000.

Episode Three covers the years from 2000 to the present. As the millennium dawns, there is enormous optimism that the “targeted therapy revolution” will rapidly result in the conquest of cancer. But, as more and more is understood about the variety of genetic mutations that underlie cancer, and about the cancer cell’s adaptability, optimism gives way to despair.

"Living Cancer" Radio Series

WNYC and NPR present "Living Cancer," a 10-story series that examines the shifting science and economics of cancer treatment and the impact on individuals and families. Listen on-demand now.