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JAMA 100 Years Ago
July 18, 2007


Author Affiliations

JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 2007;298(3):344. doi:10.1001/jama.298.3.344

At the meeting of the international conference for the investigation of cancer, in Heidelberg last year,1 Czerny discussed, from his rich experience, the question of the healing or retrogression of cancers which have seemed to be inoperable. A hundred years ago the Society for the Investigation of Cancer, in London, propounded for consideration the question: Can cancer ever undergo a natural healing? At the present time it can scarcely be denied that the answer must be in the affirmative, in view of carefully reported cases in which cancers have disappeared after inadequate treatment or none at all; yet such cases are among the rarities of medical literature. Surely, if cancers do ever cease to grow, the reason for this cessation of malignant propensities should be the object of a most zealous search. Czerny recalls several instances in the literature in which persons with cancers too far advanced for complete removal have, to the surprise of all, improved greatly after palliative local procedures, and, in a few cases, have shown no recurrence of the growth and no development of metastases. He quotes, with evident approval, the statement of Lomar, that such a favorable outcome is much more likely to follow local treatment with the thermocautery or with chemical caustics than incomplete operations with the knife. Cases in which spontaneous healing has occurred without operative interference of any kind are much more rare, even, than these. Czerny recalls one case in which a patient with mammary carcinoma developed an erysipelatous infection in the wound of the second operation for recurrent growths, and who is now, twenty years later, free from all signs of the disease. He has also observed instances in which the microscope has shown that the line of incision for the removal of intestinal cancer has passed through cancerous tissue, and yet the patients have lived many years without recurrence of the growth. Among his cases of gastroenterostomy for inoperable cancer of the stomach have been many in which the growth decreased greatly in size after the operation, and an assistant was able to collect from the hospital records nine cases in which the patients have survived the operation over four years and are now in good health.

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