Doctors have confirmed a diagnosis which is around 200 years old, which was made by one of the most influential surgeons in the medical field.
John Hunter made his diagnosis of a “tumour as hard as a rock” in 1786. Doctors from the Royal Marsden hospital analysed the sample and notes about the case, preserved at London’s Hunterian museum, which is named after the surgeon himself.
Apart from confirming the diagnosis, the medical team said it believes that the samples taken by Hunter many decades ago, offer a clue about how cancer has evolved over time.
Hunter was the surgeon for King George III i 1776, and continues to be remembered as the surgeon who made great strides in the medical field. His medical collection, which is found at the Hunterian museum, includes colourful notes about a man who in 1786 was admitted to St George’s hospital with a large, hard swelling on the lower part of his thigh. In his notes, Hunter write, “It appears to be a thickening of the bone, which began to increase at a rapid rate…as I examined the effected part, I found that it consisted of a substance around the lower bone of the thigh, a type of tumour which appears to have originated from the bone itself.”
Hunter had amputed the man’s leg and the patient began to recover within a few weeks. However from time to time he began shedding the skin from this part of the wound and also started having trouble breathing. He died seven weeks after the operation, with the autopsy confirming that the bone tumors had spread to his lungs, the lining of his heart and even his ribs.
More than 200 years later, the samples preserved by Hunter came to the attention of Dr Christina Messiou. Together with other doctors from the Royal Marsden hospital, they used modern technology to confirm his diagnosis. Dr Messious said that Hunter’s diagnosis is impressive and the way he managed the patient is very similar to many of the principles which are still used to this day. She said that the most exciting part of the research is still ongoing, as they will be comparing more samples collected by Hunter with contemporary tumors both microscopically and genetically to see if there are any differences. In this way, doctors are expected to identify if they can link risk factors related to our lifestyle with differences between modern tumours and historic ones.