New Book Chronicles More Than a Century of Cancer Care at U.Va.

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story by Marian Anderfuren:

February 4, 2011 — In 1907, a farmer from rural Rockingham County in Virginia "took a lengthy trip over the Blue Ridge Mountains" to seek care at the University of Virginia Hospital and became U.Va.'s first recorded cancer patient. At a time when surgery was about the only treatment option, the disease unfortunately led to the removal of his lower jaw.

More than 100 years later, a new book, "A History of Cancer Care at the University of Virginia, 1901-2011," preserves his story and chronicles the Medical Center's long-standing commitment to advances in cancer care.

Three years ago, a group of U.Va. physicians, researchers and nurses and saw the need for the history, said Joan Echtenkamp Klein, curator for Historical Collections at the Claude C. Moore Health Sciences Library.

Klein said she and Morton C. Wilhelm, a professor emeritus of oncology, realized that many individuals who played significant roles in the development of the cancer program over the years had died.

"Their contributions were not recorded," she said. "Our discussions led to a committee being formed to explore the possibility of writing a book which would describe the evolution of the treatment of cancer at U.Va. over the years."

"A History of Cancer Care at the University of Virginia, 1901-2011" traces the evolution of the program from its inception to the advent of the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center, which will be dedicated Feb. 26 and open to patients on April 4.

The book provides insight into the teamwork, dedication, collegiality and skill – as well as luck – that was necessary for the Couric Center to exist today. Twenty-five oral history interviews are included in the double DVD set with the book or viewable a free website.

Published by the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, the chronicle was written by Wilhelm, the Joseph Helms Farrow Professor Emeritus in Surgical Oncology, and Henry K. Sharp, a long-time Historical Collections staff member.

Interestingly, the book also recalls how cancer touched Thomas Jefferson. An account of the correspondence between Jefferson and his friends, John and Abigail Adams, is about the illness and death of their daughter, Nabby, from breast cancer. Diagnosed in 1810, she had her breast removed in a gruesome procedure performed, of course, without pain medication or anesthesia. Three years later, Nabby died an excruciating death.

"It makes us appreciate the advancements and treatment options we have today that weren't dreamed of 200 years ago," Klein said.

The book (200 pages, illustrated, hardcover, $35) can be purchased from the U.Va. Bookstore  and the U.Va. Medical Alumni Office (434-924-1734 or 866-315-0947).

A Medical Center Hour presentation on Feb. 9 will highlight the opening of the Couric Center. For information, visit the website.

For information on the book, contact Klein at 434-924-0052 or

Media Contact

Sally Jones

Health System Media Relations