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Linking Radiation to Breast Cancer (1965)

GOFMAN: But do you know that by 1965, not a word had come out of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission on breast cancer, which we now know is [the] most sensitive [tissue] to radiation[-induced cancer]?

A doctor in Nova Scotia by the name of Ian McKenzie published a paper in the British Journal of Cancer, saying, "I had a lady come into my office with a breast cancer. [It] looked to me as though she'd had a lot of radiation on the skin over the breast cancer. I asked her about it [and] she didn't know of any radiation."

[It] turned out [that] the lady had been in a TB sanitorium 15 or 20 years before. The then-leading therapy of tuberculosis was to inject air into the space between the chest wall and the lung. That's called pneumothorax, air in the thorax. The idea was to rest the lung. It was an extremely important technique because people who didn't get their lung at rest where the parts of the lung were already eaten up by TB, even though they didn't seem sick, continued to spew out tubercosid,[43] but when they had that rest of the lung, the two parts came together and they stopped spewing out tubercosid and went home instead of going to the graveyard. So the treatment by pneumothorax was the leading therapy for TB. There were people who looked like they were going to do fine before that, and went on to die, because it wasn't available to them before about '27 or '28.

So she had this pneumothorax treatment and had been fluoroscoped[44] 200 times. She never thought she'd had radiation; she'd been fluoroscoped 200 times!
GOURLEY: On her feet?
GOFMAN: No, on her chest, because they wanted to see if there was still air left from the previous injection and do you need a new one. So they were just checking these people by fluoroscopy, and that's where she got a hell of a big dose of radiation. So McKenzie went to the sanitorium records, pulled out the records of about 800 women-it was about 570 who hadn't had the treatment and a few hundred that had-and showed that there was about a 15- or 20-fold excess of breast cancer.

As a result of that, in '65, the people at Hiroshima/Nagasaki, said "Well, McKenzie [found] this, we ought to find something here." Then they looked and they published that they were having breast cancers in Hiroshima/Nagasaki from the radiation.
GOURLEY: Now, was this data gathered by DBM at Livermore as well?
GOFMAN: You mean the Japanese data. That came directly out of ABCC [(Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission)]. We were looking at things like that. So I'm trying to point out to you everything wasn't too well known at that time.
GOURLEY: People didn't always know where to look?
GOFMAN: I don't know why they didn't, they weren't up to speed on looking [at] that thing out of Japan. But they corrected it. After that, they looked pretty hard at the breast cancer and they [did] some nice work on breast cancer in Japan.

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