Occasionally I buy copies of old magazines on eBay in order to get a feel for what
the state of the world was back when it was published. The Saturday Evening Post
has been a good source for that, and I have reprinted a few articles and advertisements
from the era. This particular edition, July 8, 1950, had among other interesting
articles one titled, "The Atom May Save Your Life." It is the beginning of nuclear
medicine for treating cancers and other maladies.
Here is the heartening story of what atomic energy means to the victims of cancer,
brain tumor, hyperthyroidism, even leukemia. Already doctors call it their best
new tool since the microscope.
By Steven M. Spencer
Rather than electronically scanning and running an OCR (optical character recognition)
program on all the pages, I have just posted the scanned them and you can click
on the pages to get a version large enough to read. A few of the first paragraphs
have been reproduced in text below.
The doctors had searched without success for the brain tumor
they were sure was causing the patients severe headache, his nausea, his blurred
vision and his staggering gait. The surface of the cerebellum, the region indicated
by the symptoms, appeared perfectly normal. Nor has X-rays revealed the tumor's
whereabouts. So with great reluctance, the surgeon sewed up the skull and scalp,
wrote "brain tumor not verified" on the chart, and sent the man home.
But the symptoms persisted, became worse, and the patient,
a forty-year-old stonemason whom we shall call John Cooper, was brought back to
the Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, for a second try. This time the medical
men enlisted the help of atomic energy. They injected into Mr. Cooper's veins a
phosphate solution containing radioactive atoms of phosphorous. Then, after waiting
a day, they re-exposed the brain and began to "prospect" for the hidden tumor with
a special, needle-thin Geiger counter, wired to an electronic totaling machine.
Brain tumor has a special affinity for phosphorous and collects it in greater concentration
than does surrounding normal tissue. therefore, if a growth did lie buried in John
Cooper's brain, its accumulated cluster of radioactive phosphorous atoms would signal
its whereabouts as the searching Geiger probe came near. The lighted figures on
the face of the atomic scoreboard would tell the story.
Gently the surgeons pushed the slender"
antenna" of the counter into the whitish-gray brain tissue, pausing at every centimeter
of depth to watch the count. A girl technician stood by the operating table, turning
doails and jotting figures down in a notebook. The lights blinked on and off at
a slow, unexciting rate. "One centimeter ... 250. Two centimeters ... 126. Three
The doctor, probing first the right lobe of the cerebellum
and then the left, shook his head in discouragement. The counts showed only a normal
pickup of phosphorous. "Certainly no signs of a tumor here," he said.
Then he moved the needle to the narrow central lobe, a region
known as the vermis. Suddenly, as the tip sank to a depth of two centimeters, the
lights began to flicker furiously. The count rose to 1050, then to 1185. At another
position in the same lobe it soared to 3097 in a twelve-second period.
"By gosh," the surgeon exclaimed. "I think we've hit it."
He tried from another angle and again got a radioactivity count thirty times that
from the normal brain tissue.
"We can't be wrong," he said. This must be the tumor. And
now that we know where it is, we ought to be able to get it out."
It was a tumor and they did get it out, making use of the
probe and the atomic counting machine to guide their scalpels and the carved the
hidden growth away from the surrounding healthy tissue. On a microscopic examination
it proved to be of a highly malignant type, one which would almost certainly have
meant death had it not been removed...
Posted July 29, 2021
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