Theses Doctoral

From Sin to Science: The Cancer Revolution of the Nineteenth Century

Koblenz, Lawrence

This dissertation analyzes the critical importance of the late nineteenth century to the development of a novel, radical approach to cancer that continues into the twenty-first century. From the 1870s to the 1890s, physicians and the public came to understand cancer in an entirely new light, founded upon the application of scientific principles, methods, and instruments to cancer medicine as well as upon a major change in the social perception of the disease. Cancer as it was conceptualized, diagnosed, and treated prior to this revolutionary transformation will be explored. The birth of cellular pathology will set the stage for the transition of cancer from a macroscopic, eponymous malady to a microscopic, cellular disease. The founding of an institution devoted solely to the care of cancer patients and the investigation of the disease will illustrate how societal beliefs, combined with personal tragedy, philanthropy, and medical expertise, legitimized the disease and fostered cancer research. The histories of the cancers of two Presidents of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant and Grover Cleveland, who were diagnosed with the disease only nine years apart during these critical years, will be compared and contrasted for the insights they provide on this great transformation. The scientific underpinnings of these changes will be examined from their roots in physics, chemistry, and biology to their applications in microscopy, anesthesia, and antisepsis. Modern cancer will be shown to be based firmly on the medical microscope and the advent of scientific surgery that occurred in the late nineteenth century.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Jackson, Kenneth T.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 19, 2013