Doctors have confirmed a diagnosis made more than 200 years ago by one of medicine’s most influential surgeons. John Hunter had diagnosed a patient in 1786 with a “tumour as hard as bone”. Royal Marsden Hospital doctors analysed patient samples and case notes,
which were preserved at the museum named after him – the Hunterian in London. As well as confirming the diagnosis, the cancer team believes Mr Hunter’s centuries-old samples may give clues as to how cancer is changing over time. “It started out as a bit of fun exploration, but we were amazed by John Hunter’s insight,” Dr Christina Messiou told the BBC News website. Mr. Hunter became surgeon to King George III in 1776 and is one of the surgeons credited with moving the medical discipline from butchery to a science. He’s also rumoured to have given himself gonorrhoea as an experiment while writing a book about venereal diseases. His huge medical collection is now housed at the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons. It includes his colourful notes describing a man who arrived at St George’s Hospital, in 1786, with a hard swelling on his lower thigh. Mr Hunter amputated the man’s leg and he recovered briefly for four weeks. The patient died seven weeks after the operation and an autopsy discovered bony tumours had spread to his lungs, the lining of the heart and on the ribs. More than 200 years later, the samples fell under the gaze of Dr Christina Messiou. She said: “Just looking at the specimens, the diagnosis of osteosarcoma came very quickly to me and John Hunter’s write up was amazingly astute and fits with what we know about the behaviour of the disease. “The large volumes of new bone formation and the appearance of the primary tumour are really characteristic of osteosarcoma.” She went to get a second opinion from her colleagues at the Royal Marsden in central London.