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Swansbury J, ed. ($89.50) Humana Press, 2003. ISBN 1588290808.
The discovery of the Philadelphia chromosome by Nowell and Hungerford in 1960 greatly stimulated interest in cancer cytogenetics. Once banding techniques were refined in the 1970s, the field of cancer cytogenetics blossomed and benefited tremendously from the wealth of information that was quickly amassed. Today, the field is still growing rapidly with the advent of molecular cytogenetic techniques, such as fluorescent in situ hybridisation (FISH), multicolour FISH, spectral karyotyping, and comparative genomic hybridisation. However, there are fewer cancer cytogenetics laboratories than clinical cytogenetics laboratories because of the lower demand for this service. This is changing rapidly, as new prognostic associations are constantly being discovered. Therefore, Dr John Swansbury aimed to help those wishing to start a cancer cytogenetics service by putting together Cancer cytogenetics: methods and protocols.
Dr Swansbury wrote most of the book himself, but excellent contributions were made by some very prominent cancer cytogeneticists. The book is designed such that a chapter of background material on a certain topic is followed immediately by a technical chapter on the same topic. Chapters included most of the main areas of interest in cancer cytogenetics, such as myeloid disorders, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, other lymphoid disorders, solid tumours, and FISH. There is also a chapter on the interpretation of cytogenetic findings, which is extremely important in malignancies. The background chapters are generally well written in a simplistic way for the novice. Cancer cytogenetics can be a very intimidating field for those not familiar with it, and Dr Swansbury does a good job of introducing it. The technical chapters are quite comprehensive and also very well written, with step by step and easy to follow protocols. There are plenty of explanations and trouble shooting suggestions for the many things that can go wrong in a cancer cytogenetics service laboratory.
One of the drawbacks of the book is that it does not put enough emphasis on the importance of prognostic FISH markers in haematological disorders and solid tumours. This is a rapidly growing field, and FISH plays an important role not only in the diagnosis of a malignancy, but also in the prognosis and response to treatment. FISH plays such a large part in the cancer cytogenetics laboratory today that it would have been useful to spend more time on its clinical applications. The book could have benefited also from a chapter on quality control and quality assurance. The service laboratory is very different from a research laboratory, and one must be sure of the results that are reported. It would be best to implement quality control and quality assurance measures right from the start, rather than to change things after a mistake has been made. Quality measures are crucial in all aspects of the cancer cytogenetics service, from culture set up and harvesting, to metaphase analysis, FISH probe validation, right through to reporting.
This book is aimed at the novice and does a very good job in getting one started with a cancer cytogenetics service. However, nothing can replace experience, and it is highly recommended that anyone starting out in the field should visit an established laboratory to see first hand how things are set up. I have no hesitation in recommending this book to any cytogeneticist interested in expanding their service to include malignancies, or to anyone interested in starting up a cancer cytogenetics laboratory.