7.9 years ago by
As you get your feet wet with cancer research, you find out that it encompasses all of biology. I'll focus on genetics, because it's what I know something about and the deep relationship between quantitative genetics and statistics gives an obvious point of entrance for someone coming from a quantitative background.
Still, you need cell biology (and physiology, and pathology, and organic chem, but start with cell biology). I keep coming back to Molecular Biology of the Cell (Alberts et al), discovering every few years that the bits I had skimmed over last time turn out to be fundmental. Pay close attention to DNA itself, DNA replication and repair, the cell cycle, apoptosis, cell adhesion, innate immunity, and signal transduction (RAS and PI3K signaling particularly). Everything else is also important, but that gives you something to get started with. For elementary genetics, I liked An Introduction to Genetic Analysis (Griffiths et al) as a grad student coming to biology for the first time; read that whole book or the equivalent.
Introduction to the Cellular and Molecular Biology of Cancer, edited by Knowles and Selby, is a bit closer to the literature than MBoC, but it's very approachable for cancer biology. The chapters are written by experts in the areas, and you get both basic biology as well as clinical topics such as chemotherapy. If you absorb that book, you'll be competent to read well-written general review articles.
If you're focusing on Genetics, my next stop would be Nature Reviews: Genetics and Nature Reviews: Cancer. Their sets of articles on particular topics (look for the "Article Series" links) are quite good. Although there is more opinion in most reviews than a non-scientist might expect, the large reviews in NRG are usually comprehensive, well-illustrated, and authoritative. Pick a few topics to dive into, say susceptibility to sporadic cancers for a look at germline genetics and applications of next-generation sequencing approaches to sequencing tumors for somatic genetics, and start reading. Reviews in Nature and Science are also quite good (and usually have the major benefit of being shorter and more general), though they're much rarer. Reading reviews is harder than textbooks, because some reviews are actually quite focused, and you'll need some context in the field to know how general and objective a review really is. However, if you're serious, it won't be long before you put down textbooks.
For books on bioinformatics itself, I recommend the comprehensive lists posted by Khader and others in response to a request for books on bioionformatics