History is written by the victors. Although the vanquished may offer explanations, excuses or speculative essays on what it would have been like had they won, such efforts rarely depict reality. Often a victory is described by someone who was remote from the battle, a historian distant in time, with no passion and scars from the conflict. Pierre Band is not that kind of historian. He was fully engaged in the extraordinary turbulence that permeated the early years of medical oncology.
Surgery for cancer had existed for many hundreds of years, although anesthesia only appeared in the 1840s. Ovariectomy was introduced for breast cancer in the 1890s and castration for prostate cancer in the 1940s. Radiotherapy for cancer began in the early 1900s. Nitrogen mustards were explored as cancer drugs in the 1940s, under cover of wartime secrecy. The excitement really began in the late 1940s, when aminopterin was shown to induce temporary remissions in children with acute leukemia. Acute leukemia of children then became the first target of opportunity for scientists and doctors who were not surgeons. Principles of cancer chemotherapy were unraveled and chemotherapy began to be used in solid tumors immediately post-surgery and then before surgery, within the setting of rigorous clinical trials.
Dr. Band unfolds this fascinating story with the familiarly of a participant, drawing upon his correspondence and interviews with most of the main characters, and imbued with the excitement of this dynamic and revolutionary tale. The story of how a new discipline in medicine came about, bringing the promise of eventual triumph over cancer is among the great tales of the twentieth century.
This book tells that story. It is a record of struggle and triumph that sets the record straight. May it inspire young minds to pursue new quests to finish the task and open new vistas for improving the human condition.
James F. Holland, MD
Distinguished Professor of Neoplastic Diseases
The Derald H Ruttenberg Cancer Center
Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Many books have been written about cancer and many articles have been published on the history of chemotherapy, but none to our knowledge on the history of medical oncology, that is, the events that led to this new subspecialty of internal medicine, which was first established in the United States in 1972. As a medical oncologist, I had been thinking of writing a book on this subject and discussed the idea with Dr. Roberto Zanetti, Director of the Piedmont Cancer Registry in Torino, Italy, with whom I had spent a mini-sabbatical. He encouraged me to go ahead, despite my hesitations as I am not a historian. Before deciding to proceed, however, I first wanted to test the ground by preparing a set of slides for potential lectures. Zanetti kindly invited me, with the financial contribution of the Fondo Anglesio Moroni in Torino, to give a series of talks in Torino, Parma and Florence, Italy. All my talks were well received.
Serendipity being what it is, I had read a paper by Dr. Franco Muggia discussing the screening of cancer chemotherapeutic agents, an important topic in the early days of medical oncology. Muggia and I were members of the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group; although we had no contact for many years I phoned his office in October 2009, to tell him of my plans. Muggia, the Chairman of the annual Chemotherapy Foundation Symposium, invited me to speak at its XXVIIth conference, to be held the following month in New York City, a talk that was subsequently published . There were about 2000 people in the audience, mostly medical oncologists and oncology nurses of various ages. I then gave a similar presentation in Montreal on receiving the “Pioneers in Canadian Oncology Award” from the Canadian Medical Oncology Association. Judging from the comments received, I realized that the history of medical oncology was a subject of great interest and possibly a gap to be filled, at least from the perspective of the younger generation.
Since my talks included an overview of the history of cancer that preceded the first modern treatment of malignant diseases, I intended to gain access to the Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University in Montreal. To do so conveniently, for instance to access electronic material at the McGill libraries from home, I needed a Faculty appointment at McGill University. For this, I owe sincere thanks to Dr. Phil Gold, Professor of Physiology and Oncology at McGill University, who kindly arranged for me to be granted an appointment in the Department of Medicine.
At the same time, I had the chance to interview or talk on the phone to the pioneers who laid the foundations of medical oncology. A large part of this book relates their recollection of key events.
Pierre R. Band
Department of Medicine
 Band PR. The birth of the subspecialty of medical oncology and examples of its early scientific foundations. J Clin Oncol 2010; 28:3653-8.
List of Contributors
Pierre R. Band
“…useful, not only to the experts, but also to those about to embark in oncological studies.” - European Journal of Gynecological Oncology, Vol. XXXVI, no. 1, January, 2015
“ …presents a remarkable piece of recent history… …artfully tells that story in a way that feels distinctly personal… …Most impressive is the overall homage to a distinctively unique medical subspecialty that has seen tremendous discovery in the last 50 years…” - Daniel C. McFarland, Psycho-Oncology 24: 363–364 (March 2015), Wiley Online Library
“ …offers the reader a glimpse into the inspiring ethos of the founders of medical oncology and their collective march toward better clinical research and outcomes for patients.” - C. I. Falkson, University of Alabama at Birmingham, USA - Current Oncology, Vol. 22, No. 3, June 2015 © 2015 Multimed Inc.
“ …a skilfully constructed presentation of the successes and failures of trials and investigations of compounds, agents, and protocols, as well as profiles of some of the better and lesser-known innovators of cancer treatments.” – G. Giddings, Hospice Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand- Current Oncology, Vol. 22, No. 3, June 2015 © 2015 Multimed Inc.
“…The book evolves with refreshing speed around the early NCI history, detailing all the concepts and drama of the day-to-day activities that led to curative approaches in treating cancer… ” – J. Ragaz and S. Shakeraneh, University of British Columbia, Canada - Current Oncology, Vol. 22, No. 3, June 2015 © 2015 Multimed Inc.
“…a valuable addition to the history of medicine…” - Dr. Emil J. Freireich, The Open Cancer Journal, Volume 8: 24, 2015.
The Open Cancer Journal