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Views & Reviews Review of the Week

Cancer and its poster children

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 20 January 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b199
  1. Perri Klass, professor of journalism and paediatrics, New York University
  1. Perri.klass{at}

    What role did celebrated child patients have in shaping the way cancer treatment progressed in the US? Perri Klass reports

    Paediatric oncology is generally regarded as the locus of some of the great success stories of modern experimental medicine. Diseases that had been regarded as inevitably fatal in the early decades of the 20th century were transformed, by the 1970s and 1980s, into treatable problems. When I trained as a paediatric resident in the 1980s in Boston we were told repeatedly that although paediatric oncology was an emotionally demanding subspecialty, because of the devastating nature of the illnesses, it was also a subspecialty with an overall cure rate of 90% and, of course, a field offering fascinating research questions still to be answered.

    Gretchen Krueger relates this remarkable medical story through the experiences of children and their families from the 1930s to the 1970s. She uses stories that appeared in the popular press, authored by reporters, but also those by parents and the children themselves, arguing that such narratives add important voices to the history of …

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