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Cancer: Evolution to Revolution

Those who question television's role as an effective and powerful informational tool need only take one look at this unique public service documentary about the treatment and prevention of cancer. Presented in an extremely personal and frank yet palatable format, "Cancer: Evolution to Revolution" is a one-stop guide to the latest research and resources.

Those who question television’s role as an effective and powerful informational tool need only take one look at this unique public service documentary about the treatment and prevention of cancer. Presented in an extremely personal and frank yet palatable format, “Cancer: Evolution to Revolution” is a one-stop guide to the latest research and resources.

Many a joke was made earlier this month when “Today” executive producer Jeff Zucker decided to feature host Katie Couric’s colonoscopy on-air, but as this docu proves, routine checkups like Couric’s can mean the difference between life and death. And, as filmmaker Joseph F. Lovett aptly demonstrates here, it is through personal stories that the lesson is driven home.

Although designed with cancer patients and their families in mind, “Evolution to Revolution” is a call to action for the general public, a plea for greater awareness and early detection. According to the statistics presented, one out of every three American women will develop some form of cancer. For American men, it is one out of two.

Former “20/20” producer Lovett lost three siblings and his father to cancer; his mother also had a cancer scare. His yearly pre-screening checkups are intertwined with interviews with oncologists, researchers and cancer patients.

A major theme is the need for patient involvement, and the correlation between support groups and survival rates. While the health care debate is never addressed, it is evident from the cases shown here that a patient’s active participation is crucial.

For Gary Schine, it was a new lease on life. Diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia, he was told by his regular doctor that he was going to die. After stumbling upon an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, he got a second opinion and found out about a new drug that eventually saved his life.

Docu also shows tremendous support of clinical trials that are a way for researchers to bring new drugs to the public. It takes about 15-20 years after the discovery of a cancer-fighting drug before it is available to the public. Lovett makes a convincing argument with plenty of statistics, including this one: Because more people are willing to try experimental drugs for their children, there is now a 73% survival rate for those who suffer from childhood cancers.

More than just a guide for patients, the docu is also a testament to human endurance and strength. Among the cancer patients featured is 11-year-old Jessica Turri, who is amazingly mature and eloquent as she talks about her struggles with treatment and the death of fellow patients. Lovett also shows how normal people cope in the face of terrible odds and average people become well-versed in medical jargon.

Only briefly does the docu address problems with insurance or the money and time many patients have to invest personally. Lovett likewise steers clear of any controversy over federal inquiries into the use of experimental drugs. Instead, Lovett focuses on the positive, although not everybody featured here survives. Still, the advances made in the last 10 years alone have at least provided many cancer patients with precious extra time, and sometimes that makes all the difference in the world.

Tech credits are polished with poignant narration by cancer activist Lilly Tartikoff.

Cancer: Evolution to Revolution

HBO; Thur. March 30, 8 p.m.

Production: Filmed in various locations by Joseph F. Lovett in association with HBO. Executive producers, Lovett, Kenneth Paul Rosenberg, MD, Sheila Nevins, Anthony Radziwill; associate producers, Micah Cormier, Elaine Epstein; director; writer, Lovett.

Crew: Editor, Richard Hankin, camera, Geoff Dills, Dusty Powers, Robert Abrahamsen, Tony Pagano, Bill Charette; music, Art Labriola; narrator, Lilly Tartikoff. 2 HOURS 30 MIN.

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