The first scientist to demonstrate that cancer may be caused by the environment was born today in 1714. Now WE know em


Sir Percivall Pott was born January 6, 1714 in London, England.

He lost his father at the age of 4, and by the age of 7 had proven himself worthy of study at a private school in Kent.

At the age of 17, Percivall served his apprenticeship as assistant surgeon at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London preparing cadavers for public demonstrations of dissections.

In 1736, Pott was admitted to the Barbers’ Company as a licensed practise surgeon.

Then in 1744, Percivall again became an assistant surgeon at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. In 1749 he became full surgeon at St. Bartholomew’s where Percivall introduced various important innovations in procedure, doing much to abolish the extensive use of escharotics and the cautery that was prevalent when he began his career. He also thought that soot was a carcinogen.

In January of 1756, Percivall sustained a broken leg after a fall from his horse while making a sick visit. The fall resulted in an open compound fracture.

As Percivall lay in the mud and muck, he sent a servant to buy a door from a nearby construction site, then had himself placed on the door with 2 poles nailed to it as a sort of improvised stretcher. He reclined on the improvised stretcher and was carried to his home

His fellow Surgeons cleaned his wound and discussed amputation, an operation which at the time had a very high rate of failure (as it often led to sepsis and death), but Pott prevailed on them to splint the leg and he ultimately recovered completely.

In 1765, Percivall was elected Master of the Company of Surgeons, the forerunner of the Royal College of Surgeons.

In 1768, Percivall published Some Few Remarks upon Fractures and Dislocations. This book was translated into French and Italian and had a far-reaching influence in Britain and France.

Percivall Pott’s name became firmly written in the annals of medicine, first by describing arthritic tuberculosis of the spine (Pott’s disease). Pott also gave an excellent clinical description in his Remarks on that Kind of Palsy of the Lower Limbs.

In 1775, Percivall Pott found an association between exposure to soot and a high incidence of scrotal cancer (later found to be squamous cell carcinoma) in chimney sweeps.

This was the first occupational link to cancer, and Pott was the first person to demonstrate that a malignancy could be caused by an environmental carcinogen.

Pott’s early investigations contributed to the science of epidemiology and the Chimney Sweeper’s Act of 1788.

Returning in foul weather from another Sick Call December 11, 1788, Percivall Pott complained of having caught cold.  His condition deteriorated, and on December 21st he made his last diagnosis:

“My lamp is almost extinguished: I hope it has burned for the benefit of others.”

The next day Percivall Pott died of pneumonia.

Now WE know em



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