Despite improved prognoses for certain types of cancer, progress in combating the disease has been modest since the declaration in 1971 of the “war on cancer.” Heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death in the US. And with the nation’s population aging, the number of cancer deaths is expected to continue rising. Aside from cancer’s lethality and enduring mystery, the realization that cells respond to physical and mechanical cues in addition to chemical and genetic ones is drawing physical scientists to study the disease.

Historically, physicists have played a major role in developing diagnostic and treatment tools for cancer—from x rays and MRI to lasers, radiation therapies, and designer drugs. But in the last decade or so, physical scientists and engineers have increasingly delved into understanding the disease, an area that had been almost exclusively the domain of biologists and medical researchers.

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