Cancer: Radium is brighter than sunshine (1904)

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What at first reads like pseudo-science about cancer turns out to be the early beginnings of chemo and radiation therapy. Their haphazard methods of using radiation, though, were dangerously naive: “…under the action of the X-ray, Dr Morton uses shields only for the hair and eyes, for, he says, ‘one never can tell how extensive cancer infiltration has become, and the greater the area treated, the greater the chances are of safety to the patient.'”

Sunset over Sedona

Great hopes raised by liquid sunshine

They may be disappointed, but at least light will be shed in places hitherto dark

With the announcement the other day of the discovery of a new force, which has been poetically called “liquid sunshine,” the victims of cancer and consumption and kindred diseases have been cheered with a new hope. They have learned how the light is to be employed to drive from their organs those diseases which thrive in darkness; how, after drinking certain chemical solutions, they will find that the inside of their bodies will be all suffused with glowing light, under the mysterious influence of the X-ray or radium.

And one may even imagine that the disease germs have heard of liquid sunshine with that terror which light inspires in the powers of darkness. The tuberculous bacillus, together with all his evil companions and those other secret foes, many of whom have still evaded the microscope of man, and among whom is that insidious purveyor of cancer, may well be in a panic. They are to be driven from their old haunts and their dark hiding places are to be illuminated with streams of sunlight. The very blood in and on which they live is to glow with a strange, weird gleam. How, then, can they escape destruction?

But, seriously speaking, not only has the discovery of liquid sunshine brought happy tidings to the expectant invalid, but it has aroused the profound interest of the practical physicians and surgeon, and, though only in an experimental stage as yet, and subject to the reaction of disappointment, not only does “liquid sunshine” appeal to the fancy, because it calls to man’s aid the most beautiful of nature’s gifts, the light of day, but it inspires hope because it has already triumphed in some cases over disease where before science had been unavailing.

Dr William James Morton, who declares he is the discoverer of this new mode of treatment, tells of several specific cases of cancer and Hodgkin’s disease in which his efforts resulted in a recovery if not also a cure. With discreet conservatism, Dr Morton does not yet claim to have found a panacea, but he believes that liquid sunshine in the hands of a skilled practitioner insures a much greater degree of success.

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When a patient is treated for cancer with liquid sunshine, he first drinks a solution which chemists call fluorescent. After this fluid has mingled with his blood and has been carried into the smallest capillary, the penetrating light of the X-ray or of radium is thrown into his body. Under the chemical action of the light, the blood gleams as if it were a sort of liquid fire. When the X-ray machine is stopped or the radium is removed, the glow leaves the flesh; but, according to the advocates of this new treatment, a chemical change has taken place in any morbid tissue. The cancerous growth appears to be checked, yet just how not even the medical experts themselves can tell. Some call the phenomena by long names, one of which is leucocytosis. but all acknowledge that names only add to the mystery.

>> Also see: X-ray wonders (1896)

Hitherto surgeons have fought cancer with the knife or with the X or radium rays, and when the disease was on the surface of the body, as, for example, on the breast or the face, they have been able to check its growth, and, as one expressed it, “postpone the evil day.” But when the dread disease appeared in some internal part, as the stomach, the knife was found futile. Even the penetrating X-ray failed to exert an influence which was sufficiently direct on such deep seated tumors.

Liquid sunshine, however, now proposes to go into the most inaccessible tissues of the body, and purge them with light. One needs to study the action of a fluorescent solution in the broad light of day to appreciate its action in the human body. In his lecture before the Technology Club the other night, when he publicly made known his discovery for the first time, Dr Morton showed several bottles which seemed to have the changeable colors of the fabled dolphin. One bottle contained quinine sulphate, another aesculin, a third fluorescin, a fourth eosin. There was also a bottle of resorcin and one of salacin.

When held up to the light, the quinine and the aesculin looked as transparent as window glass. But the moment the direct was changed to a reflected light, the quinine became a vivid green, and the aesculin a deep bluish green. Fluorescein had a faint yellow color in the direct light, which shifted into green. Resorcin turned from an orange to a green, eosin from a light pink to a deep green and salacin from transparency to a faint green shade.

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A member of the Technology Club who is intimately familiar with Dr Morton’s method of treatment, and who has followed his work from his earliest experiments, in explaining how he used these solutions, said: When one first hears the gospel of liquid sunshine he is likely to get the idea that a patient must be literally saturated with a solution in order that it may illumine his body under the influence of the Rontgen ray or radium. Nothing could be further from the truth. A dose containing five or six grains of quinine sulphate is a sufficient preparation. Barely a grain of aesculin is enough. Dr Morton once told me that one part of quinine in 50,000 parts of water, or one part of aesculin in a million parts in dilution, produced the most satisfactory results. I understand that of all of these solutions his favorites are quinine, aesculin and salacin.

When a patient who has allowed one of these fluorescent solutions to mingle with his blood is subjected to the X or radium ray, his tissues are lighted up with the bluish green light of the solar spectrum. These rays are far more powerful chemically than the less refrangible yellow and red rays. In combination with the visible blue rays there are the ultra violet, and the actinic rays. which are not discernible to the eye, but which are most powerful chemically, and which would affect a photographic plate when red or yellow light would have no effect. Accordingly, the patient is illumined with those elements of the sunshine which are most potent to cure.

Dr Morton studied the properties of these fluorescent liquids for several years, and, as he told the club: “It occurred to me that I might combine the properties which the X and radium rays have of penetrating human tissue with these facts of fluorescence, and thus establish a system by means of which we could flood a given organ or seat of disease with a fluorescible fluid, and then iluminate it with an X or a radium ray. This would set up in the desired region actinic radiation, and thus illumine the diseased tissue in a manner which could not be attained by any application from the outside.”

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