Key Concepts

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As soon as doctors began to diagnose and to treat cancers, they began searching for a cure for the disease's malignant destruction. Every so often, a new "miracle" medicine or treatment would come along and provide a brief window of hope for physicians and patients alike. Some of these innovations proved to be beneficial, while others were of dubious long term value.


Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, medical director of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, was always on the alert for new treatments and techniques. He read and corresponded widely and traveled to Europe to study with leading medical and surgical figures.


Irradiation treatments -- X-ray and radium -- were among the new techniques for treating cancer which were developed at the end of the nineteenth century. The X-ray was introduced in Europe in 1896 and became a popular medical option. Dr. Kellogg soon adopted the X-ray as an important element in the Sanitarium treatment plan. When the new Sanitarium was rebuilt after the 1902 fire, a special X-ray department was included. Dr. Kellogg not only used X-rays for diagnostic purposes, but also for treatment of "deep seated diseases such as cancer which cannot be reached by any other means."


Doctors Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium in 1898 in their Paris laboratory. During the first decade of the twentieth century significant advances were made in developing uses, establishing appropriate dosages and reducing the risks of radium treatments.


In April 1912, Dr. Kellogg returned from a trip to Europe with a small quantity of radium, which he called the "wizard of the chemical world." According to a contemporary local newspaper report, "it is claimed that Dr. Kellogg introduced radium to this country" at this time.


On April 29, 1912, G. C. Clark owned the "peculiar distinction of being the first person in America to undergo a radium treatment." Mr. Clark, of Houston, Texas, had been a patient at the Sanitarium for six months and had "been given up, practically as dead, having suffered paralysis of his limbs and lower extremities." When he arrived at the San, he "could not move a particle."


When Clark heard that Dr. Kellogg had obtained radium, which was reputed to cure paralysis, he immediately requested treatment. The newspaper reported that the Sanitarium was "one of the only six institutions in the world where radium treatments are given." The only other hospitals using this method were in Vienna, Berlin and Bohemia, where radium was mined.


The warm radium baths given to Clark were experimental -- and also expensive. "Radium Treatments for Malignant Disease" cost from $50 to $1000, the highest fees charged at the Sanitarium during the period.


While the X-ray treatment proved to be beneficial and continued to be an integral part of hospital therapy, radium proved to be more problematic. By the early 1920s it was known that uncontrolled use of radium was extremely hazardous Treatments were discontinued at the Sanitarium and most other hospitals.