Obituaries

William G CahanMalcolm MacDonald BellGeoffrey Shirley JonesChristopher (Kit) LewthwaiteArmand LowenthalJohn Eugene Anthony O'ConnellRobert Anthony O'Grady PearsonEdward Gordon PyneDouglas Walter QuantrillErnest Joseph Eric TophamSnehelata Vishwanath

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.323.7319.1005 (Published 27 October 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:1005

William G Cahan


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Antismoking advocate and thoracic surgeon New York (b 1914; q Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons 1939), died from prostate cancer on 7 October 2001. Bill Cahan is one reason why no one can smoke in most of New York's 15 000 restaurants, or in its office buildings, hospitals, stadiums, schools, apartment house lobbies and hallways, air and bus terminals, buses, subways, or on US airlines. And why smoking is so vigorously restricted in the United States. “He beat the drum before it was a popular issue,” said his son Anthony, chief of the breast surgery service at Beth Israel North Medical Center in Manhattan, New York.

Elegant, slim, well tailored, charming, with a commanding mane of white hair, Bill Cahan was also the most egalitarian of people, “Bill” to all. A native New Yorker, the son of an artist for The World newspaper, Cahan graduated from Harvard and received his medical degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He focused on thoracic surgery and breast cancer surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, where he became senior attending surgeon. As a thoracic surgeon in the 1950s and 1960s, he saw the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. He developed a surgical approach to remove mediastinal lymph nodes during lung cancer surgery, hoping to prevent metastasis. He did research with the “smoking beagles,” dogs that were forced to inhale cigarette smoke and developed early airway changes similar to those in patients with lung cancer. Animal rights groups attacked him; he later turned the attack into a message that pet owners should not subject their animals to carcinogens.

Bill Cahan's first wife, Pamela Gordon, the daughter of musical theatre star Gertrude Lawrence, introduced him to Yul Brynner, star of The King and I, and other theatre folk. Bill harangued Brynner …

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