Radiation Treatment for Facial Cancer, Boston, 1903

The X-Ray Era 1901-1915


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Diseases and cancers of the face were so visible and disfiguring that they were usually brought to the attention of a physician in their early stages. The effect and success produced by Finsen’s light therapy on lupus, eczema, psoriasis, other skin diseases and even infections, such as blastomycosis, led early radiologists to use x-rays for these conditions. They also began treating cancerous skin conditions, such as basal and squamous cell carcinomas. The success rate in treating these tumors helped radiation therapy quickly gain public and professional acceptance.

By 1903, the protocol shows the physician checking the alignment of the x-ray tube. While radiation burns were recognized as a treatment hazard, this photograph displays the lack of significant precautions. The x-ray machines in this era were not well focused and rays would easily scatter.

The treatment protocol was as follows: “An exposure of five minutes for the first few sittings, and this time may be increased to ten, in larger growths to fifteen minutes, and the exposures may be given two or three times a week. But, as stated, the time of exposure, the frequency of the exposures, and the distance of the tube from the patient must be determined for each individual, each disease, and each apparatus.”

Excerpted from Oncology: Tumors & Treatment, A Photographic History, The X-Ray Era 1901-1915 by Stanley B. Burns, MD, FACS. Photograph courtesy of Stanley B. Burns, MD, and The Burns Archive. ■



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