Element of Hope

Element of Hope: Radium and the Response to Cancer in Canada, 1900-1940

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  • Book Info
    Element of Hope
    Book Description:

    Charles Hayter chronicles the work of Canadian provinces in establishing the cancer programs that remain the framework for modern systems. Focusing on the compromises these programs required, which anticipated later conflicts over Medicare, Hayter concludes by revealing the historical roots of current problems in cancer care.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7270-6
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction The Cancer Crisis Today
    (pp. 3-9)

    Cancer, the “dread disease” of modern times, is a major health problem in every developed country in the world. By 1997 cancer had overtaken heart disease as the leading cause of death in Canada.⁵ Each week 2,800 Canadians are diagnosed with cancer, and 1,300 die of the disease. In 2004 an estimated 145,500 new cases of cancer and 68,300 deaths will occur in Canada. Based on current projections, 38 percent of women and 43 percent of men will develop cancer during their lifetime. Cancer is the leading cause of premature death in Canada, and it accounts for one-third of the...

  6. 1 “Cures of a Very Surprising Character”: Radium and the Doctor
    (pp. 10-33)

    During a visit to Paris in the spring of 1907, prominent Toronto physician and medical editor William H.B. Aikins witnessed the impressive effects of a powerful new therapeutic substance, radium, human disease. Aikins was an avuncular and respected figure in Toronto medical circles at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1895, had founded a medical journal,The Canadian Medical Review,and later assisted in the formation of the Toronto Academy of Medicine, a professional and social organization for doctors. At the time, practitioners of Canadian medicine largely looked outside the country’s borders for new ideas and inspiration, and in...

  7. 2 “Adorning Our Home”: Radium and the State
    (pp. 34-51)

    With its strong cultural ties to France, location of the early experimentation with radium, Montreal became the natural home to Canada’s first experiment in institutionalized cancer treatment. On 3 April 1923 the Prime Minister of Quebec, Louis-Alexandre Taschereau, gave a speech at a ceremony at the University of Montreal, marking the inauguration of the Institut du Radium. The presence of the premier at this event reflected the financial and political interest of the provincial government, which had provided $100,000 for the purchase of radium as a foundation for the Institut. Taschereau spoke of the importance of radium to Quebec society....

  8. 3 “To the Relief of Malignant Diseases of the Poor”: Radium and the Hospital
    (pp. 52-68)

    In his Annual Report for 1929, the superintendent of the Montreal General Hospital proudly enumerated the improvements during the year. In addition to devices that contributed to cleanliness and comfort, such as a floor polisher, a blanket washer, and kitchen mixers, there were innovations that ensured the hospital was at the forefront of medical diagnosis and treatment: a new anesthetic apparatus, an electrocardiograph, and a supply of radium.¹

    While such items are not surprising to anyone familiar with the modern hospital, machines were a relatively new feature of the hospital landscape in the early twentieth century. In the mid-nineteenth century,...

  9. 4 “The Worst Scourge of Civilized Mankind”: Cancer Becomes a Social Problem, 1920-30
    (pp. 69-86)

    During the period 1900 to 1930 radium emerged in Canada as both a medical treatment and as an emblem of scientific progress for the medical profession, hospitals, and society. However, in the 1930s there was a change in the context of radium use. Before 1930, radium was an important element in individual medical practices and hospital care; after 1930, it came to be regarded as an essential component of a multifaceted attack on cancer control, and the setting for its use shifted from individual physicians and institutions to government-supported cancer clinics. As the arena for radium’s use changed from private...

  10. 5 “A Proper Spirit of Cooperation”: Cancer Progress in the West
    (pp. 87-111)

    With its tradition of cooperative effort, the province of Saskatchewan has had a large impact on shaping Canada’s health care system.¹ It is not surprising therefore that the first provincial cancer program occurred in this prairie province. On 17 March 1930 Saskatchewan’s Minister of Health, Frederick Dennis Munroe, rose in the provincial legislature to support the second reading of a bold new piece of legislation: an act to create a cancer commission with the authority to create a comprehensive cancer program for Saskatchewan. In a long and eloquent address, Munroe reviewed the factors that had made cancer an urgent public...

  11. 6 Compromising on Cancer: The Uneasy Birth of Ontario’s Cancer System
    (pp. 112-134)

    Two years after the passage of cancer legislation in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the government of Ontario received the report of a Royal Commission, which recommended a government-funded cancer program for Ontario. The commission’s recommendations became the foundation for a program that over the subsequent seventy years the largest centrally managed cancer system in the world.¹ From its beginnings in the Royal Commission of 1931-32 to the establishment of a coordinating body, the Ontario Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation in 1943, the major challenge of Ontario’s cancer program in these formative years was the introduction and development of a centralized system....

  12. 7 Seeds of Discord: The Politics of Radon Therapy in the 1930s
    (pp. 135-155)

    Radium emanation, or radon, plants were a common feature of early programs in Canada. The first plants were established in Montreal (1923), Halifax (1926), Saskatoon (1931), Winnipeg (1931), Toronto (1933). The principle advantage of these plants was allowing the costly original supply of radium to remain in a secure location the gaseous by-product radon was collected and distributed for treatment. Radon played a prominent part in the first Canadian cancer programs, but its role in these early programs was highly ambiguous. On the one hand, it was a symbol of technologically based, specialized, centralized treatment, and therefore an instrument of...

  13. 8 Country Interlude: The Rise and Fall of the Huron Springs Sanatorium
    (pp. 156-167)

    A recurrent theme in the history of cancer control in Canada is the conflict between private practice and state health care. The characterization of cancer as a public health problem and government initiatives in cancer control provoked opposition from sectors of the medical profession who had until this time regarded cancer as a private health matter to be dealt with in a private practice context. There is perhaps no better illustration of the conflict than the interaction between the Ontario cancer program and a single practitioner, Dr Alexander Moir, who in 1932 established a private country radium near Hensall, a...

  14. 9 Cancer from Sea to Sea, 1935-40 The Struggle for a National Program
    (pp. 168-185)

    In the 1920s and 1930s, the response to the cancer problem varied across Canada, with some provinces, such as Saskatchewan, opting for provincial programs and others, such as Nova Scotia, creating more narrowly focused, institutionally, based programs. These variations were not unique to cancer: the response to other diseases, such as polio, was similarly variable.¹ Such differences are explained by differing local medical, social, and political environments as well as the constitutional structure of Canada, which gives the provinces jurisdiction over health care. Nonetheless, during the early 1930s there began to be calls for creation of a national program for...

  15. 10 Conclusion Historical Roots of Current Problems in Cancer Control
    (pp. 186-202)

    This book has explored the background and origins of Canada’s cancer programs up to the outbreak of World War II. The story closes in 1940 because, by that date, Canadians had formulated a societal response to cancer that remains the essence of the response to the disease today. There were variations in the specific form of this response from province to province, which ranged from the tumour clinics in local hospitals in the Maritimes, to the free-standing “Institutes” of Montreal and Vancouver, to the province-wide program of Saskatchewan. Despite these regional variations, by 1940 cancer was established in each province...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 203-234)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-260)
  18. Index
    (pp. 261-273)