Medicine: Frozen Cancers

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Young Dr. Temple Sedgwick Fay, head of the neurology department at Philadelphia's Temple University, tackles his medical problems with humor as well as imagination and boldness. Six years ago, while working on a cure for epilepsy by dehydration and exercise (TIME, May 22), he spent his spare time writing a best-seller on the comic adventures of an intern, entitled My First Baby. There he confessed that his greatest joy was clanging ambulance bells in the middle of the night.

Last week, Dr. Fay turned up at the St. Louis meeting of the American Medical Association with a method of relieving the searing pain of cancer victims with ice blankets. He showed sensational moving pictures of naked cancer patients sleeping peacefully on rocky beds of crushed ice.

Starting from the practical facts that eggs kept in iceboxes never develop into chickens, that bacteria never multiply in frozen food, Dr. Fay, with Dr. Lawrence Weld Smith, prepared a cold den in Temple University Hospital, induced 38 volunteers who suffered from incurable cancers to come in and "freeze" their tumors, possibly prevent the multiplication of cancer cells.

The patients were stripped, placed on beds, and piled high with crushed ice, like frozen fish. An electric fan blew chill winds through the cold room, and soon, the first numbing pain of the ice obliterated by anesthetics, they fell into a frozen slumber. For five days they remained in a coma. Their pulse-beats almost stopped, their stomachs, kidneys and bowels ceased functioning, their general body temperatures fell from a normal 98.6° F. to 90°, a record sustained low.

Only sign of life was the silent, easy rhythm of their beating hearts. After five days of lethargy, the doctors awakened the frozen patients with steaming cups of coffee. As they opened their eyes, said Dr. Fay, they all smiled, commented on their deep, dreamless sleep. Not one of them developed pneumonia, or even a slight cold, for all the germs in their bodies were slowed down by refrigeration. All reported "definite relief of local pain." The growth of the tumors was checked, and some of them even shrank.* No new metastases (cancer migrations) were observed in any of the patients.

Despite the shriveling of their tumors, the disease had already progressed too far in most patients, and several months after refrigeration treatment they died. Doctors in St. Louis, however, were enthusiastic about refrigeration, for they think it may be useful as a general cleaning-up treatment to rid the body of any dangerous germs it may harbor.

*Strangely enough, although human cancer cells cooled to 90°F. stop growing, sometimes die, laboratory cultures of cancer cells, when frozen to 100° below zero, multiply rapidly when warmed up.