2020-01-03 20:30:30 UTC
(He died in 1948.)
By Eleanor Cummins
...While it seems possible that no one ever told Ruth himself, the baseball legend had terminal cancer. A tumor had grown from behind his nose to the base of his skull and was working its way into his neck. Treatment would be harrowing, but his doctors were determined the Sultan of Swat would get better. Though their effort to save him was ultimately unsuccessful, the record-setting Ruth became a cancer pioneer in the process.
At the time of Ruth's birth on February 6, 1895, cancer, once a rarity, was suddenly everywhere. "He lived at a time when cancer rates were increasing markedly," says Dr. Otis Brawley, Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society. These days, Brawley says, we know what to attribute that to: smoking and air pollution. At the time, however, no one actually knew what caused cancer, let alone how to cure it.
Until the late 19th century, many scientists subscribed to the humoral theory of disease, which states that imbalances in blood, phlegm, and two types of bile caused all matter of illness. Others believed cancer, like tuberculosis, was contagious. And as late as the 1920s, some physicians subscribed to the notion that physical trauma caused tumors. This last theory persisted despite all evidence; scientists methodically injured lab animals aplenty and yet no new cancers grew.
Treatments were similarly brutish...