‘Frozen Sleep’ as Cancer Treatment, Springfield, Illinois, 1939

The Radium Era: 1916–1945

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Through the Lens of Oncology History: A Century of Progress

The text and photographs on this page are excerpted from a four-volume series of books titled Oncology Tumors & Treatment: A Photographic History, by Stanley B. Burns, MD, FACS. The photo below is from the volume titled “The Radium Era: 1916–1945.” To view additional photos from this series of books, visit burnsarchive.com.

During the 1930s, a wide variety of physical-chemical therapies were devised for cancer treatment. Heat, cold, vibration, ultrasound, diathermy, hydrotherapy, and all forms of electrical energy were employed. This photograph from a Springfield hospital presents “Frozen Sleep, Medical Science’s Newest Treatment for Cancer.” The experiment was disclosed after the patient was thawed back to consciousness. For 5 days, the patient remained frozen “under the scrutiny of three physicians.” The image captures James Graham, MD, and Alex Jones, MD, removing a covering of ice and preparing to restore the patient to consciousness.

The frustration with failure to improve survival rates for cancer patients resulted in the creation of numerous additions to already combined therapies. The medical community hoped that perhaps by adding one more parameter of attack, a breakthrough would occur. Study of medical history has clearly shown that all kinds of treatments are tried when the true cause of a disease is unknown. When the cause is discovered, some treatments may seem totally absurd, while others prove close to the mark. Only time will tell. ■

Excerpted from Oncology Tumors & Treatment, A Photographic History, The Anesthesia Era: 1845–1875 by Stanley B. Burns, MD, FACS. Photographs courtesy of Stanley B. Burns, MD, and The Burns Archive.






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