Next | ToC | Prev

Medical Treatments With Radioactive Phosphorus (32P)

GOFMAN: No, I didn't drink anything. I did work in John Lawrence's clinic, as I told you, and treated people with radioactive phosphorus. That was not human experimentation: John had tried this.

Every person that came to John's clinic was referred by a doctor for radiation treatment, and patients knew what they were getting into. To clarify things for you, I had already [known about these radiation treatments] from having read all of the stuff they'd done.

The treatment of polycythemia [veras][20] was very successful with radioactive phosphorus. The treatment of leukemia was successful only in one form of leukemia, called chronic myelogenous[21] leukemia. It was the other leukemias that did poorly with radiophosphorus. By the time I got there in 1947, they were no longer treating other leukemias, but the chronic myelogenous leukemia did quite well sometimes.
GOURLEY: Which type of radiation?
GOFMAN: Radioactive phosphorus, 32P. John had one young lady, I remember, who was about 20 years of age. She was in here, I think, [for her] 10th or 11th year of treatment.

There was a woman sent in by a doctor at Berkeley. She had a chronic myelogenous leukemia, and he told her, "You've got 3 to 6 months to live, but if you want to go over to John Lawrence's clinic in Berkeley, they might accept you as a patient to treat you with radioactive phosphorus. We don't know if it's any good or not, but any rate, it can't hurt you."

John was too busy to see her, so I [saw] this lady, a lovely young lady who had two children about 5 and 7 years of age. She was depressed: [she] had just been told [that] she had 3 to 6 months to live. I told her [that] I'd looked at the records and I'd helped treat some of the people with her disease and some of them have [had] years of good health with radiophosphorus. She'd listen to all of it, we treated her, and she responded very well.

We spent the first year convincing her that she wasn't dead, because she'd been told she had 3 to 6 months to live; it was already a year. She did [so] well the second year [that she] took a trip to Europe with her children. The third year, we had to treat her again, because she had a relapse and she did well with that. But then, at the end of the fourth year, she went into what's called an acute phase of myelogenous leukemia; there was nothing we could do.

So this lady, who had 3 months or 6 months to live, lived 4½ years and watched her children get a little older. I think being able to give someone 4½ years of life when they were pretty sick when they came, was quite an accomplishment. I thought it was worthwhile, working on that.

I did leave that work when my own work on heart disease got very busy. I [had] 50 people working with me in Donner Lab; [a] lot of graduate students. I just couldn't keep up the work on the radiation.
HEFNER: Let me finish out with some things [and] then hit the heart disease.
GOFMAN: Whatever you want.

Next | ToC | Prev
back to CNR | radiation | rat haus | Index | Search | tree