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HBO pushes forward in the field of public service with its documentary "Cancer: Evolution to Revolution." 

Case Studies

One in three women alive today will develop cancer in her lifetime. For men, the figure is one in two. Yet television has shied away from the subject, perhaps because it's frightening, perhaps because of a lack of impetus.

Now, however, HBO has developed a remarkable program, complete with well-researched and documented information of vital importance to anyone with the disease or to anyone who loves someone who has cancer. The network is devoting 2* hours of airtime to each showing of the program.

Producer-director Joseph Lovett was inspired to take on the project by his own family's history with cancer. The disease has touched five members of his immediate family. Four of them died from it. Lilly Tartikoff, the program's narrator, is the widow of TV executive Brandon Tartikoff, who died three years ago of a form of cancer named for the British physician Thomas Hodgkin, who first described it in the early 19th century.

"Cancer: Evolution to Revolution" was designed to bring viewers to the realization that cancer is preventable and treatable, and to empower patients and families. The message throughout is that we can and should be active participants and advocates in our own health care.

To that end, the program does something unusual and immensely helpful to viewers: Throughout, it offers information on the state of current knowledge and research, and then pauses frequently to list on-screen a wide range of resources along with telephone numbers and Web sites where more detailed information may be had. And the program freezes the information long enough for viewers to make notes.

Some of the most widely respected institutions involved with cancer research and treatment were involved from the beginning, including the National Cancer Institute, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center and the National Institutes of Health.

Nonfiction television is at its best with stories about people, and "Cancer: Evolution to Revolution" wisely presents much of its important information through case studies. Viewers will hear Gary Schine's story. He was told by his doctor that he was going to die from hairy cell leukemia. He sought a second opinion and it saved his life. Now he's been cancer-free for nine years. Young Jessica Turri has acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The program follows the course of her treatment as her parents take an active role in getting the 11-year-old the best treatment available. For Arnold Stitton, it was a trip to France that was the key to fighting his colon cancer. A new drug was available there, but not in the U.S.

With this special documentary, HBO pushes forward in the field of public service. Watching the documentary is not easy, and it may not be for everyone. But if you, or a family member, or somebody you love either has cancer or has a family history of cancer, it's vital viewing. And look for HBO to be widely praised for undertaking a worthy project. It deserves to
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