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September 2017

Dermatologic Radiotherapy and Radioactive Quackery—Discovery and Tragedy at the Turn of the 20th Century

Author Affiliations
  • 1Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
  • 2Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
JAMA Dermatol. 2017;153(9):881. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2017.2672

Röntgen’s discovery of x-rays in 1895 initiated a new medical era in both diagnostics and therapeutics. Dermatologists made many contributions to the nascent field of radiation therapy, and initially, therapeutic use of ionizing radiation was limited to cutaneous conditions. The earliest use of radiotherapy occurred in 1896, when Austrian dermatologist and radiologist Leopold Freund treated a 5-year-old girl by irradiating a giant hairy nevus on her back to induce epilation.1 Epilation was achieved, though the girl developed a deep ulcer. Amazingly, she was followed up at 75 years of age and was healthy despite kyphosis and back pain.1

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