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Feature Profile

Otis Brawley—one of the first to question the value of screening

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: (Published 26 April 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i2301
  1. Jeanne Lenzer, associate editor, The BMJ
  1. jlenzer{at}

Otis Brawley has never been afraid to go against convention. Jeanne Lenzer finds out what drives him

Otis Webb Brawley, chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society and professor of oncology and epidemiology at Emory University, is a trailblazer. He has faced fierce criticism at times for his seemingly radical views, yet he has also won over many doctors, professional associations, and members of the public, who now embrace those views. It hasn’t always been easy going.

Brawley’s outlook on medicine and healthcare has been shaped by his experiences growing up in a section of Detroit known as Black Bottom. He was 8 years old in 1967 when the city exploded in race riots. Tensions were high after the National Guard and police shot and killed three unarmed black men at the Algiers Motel. No one was convicted. Brawley says he learnt early on about murder, drugs, and police. Many of his childhood friends are now dead or in jail.

Brawley’s parents saw education as the path to upward mobility, and they enrolled him in a Catholic school. His father was a …

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