Radiotherapy is the branch of medicine that deals with treatment using radiation. Soon after the discovery of x-rays in 1895 it became apparent that X-rays were able to cause ulcers and damage to the skin. This led practitioners to using this new form of therapy for the treatment of superficial growths. The first person to apply radiation therapy was Leopold Freund in Vienna in 1896. He wrote the first book on radiotherapy in 1903. In France Despeignes in 1896 used x-ray treatment to treat a patient with stomach cancer. X-ray treatments became popular for treating unwanted hair, skin cancers, lupus vulgaris and epitheliomas .
In 1898 the Curies discovered radium and this was subsequently used as a formal therapy. Becquerel who discovered radioactivity in 1896 and shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with the Curies was another pioneer in this field. Radium which is radioactive was commonly used in bath salts and became a common cure for ailments such as arthritis and gout.
X-ray treatments were even applied in leukaemia notably by Ironside Bruce in the UK who became a radiation martyr himself.
In 1922 at the Curie Institute a French radiologist called Henry Coutard showed that fractionated treatment of x-rays could cure cancer .This was the beginning of early modern radiotherapy.The early pioneers in Britain of radiotherapy included the famous Neville Finzi radiotherapist at Saint Bartholomew’s hospital,London who treated Sigmund Freud’s cancer.
In the early days radiologists were involved in radiation treatment in addition to diagnostic radiology. Gradually from the 1930s onwards radiotherapy developed as a separate discipline breaking away from radiology which concentrated on using x-rays for a purely diagnostic purpose.
Following the discovery of linear accelerators high-voltage external-beam radiotherapy was introduced into medical practice in the 1950’s.
B Thomas A M K Banerjee AK The History of Radiology, OUP, May 2013
J An Overview on Radiotherapy: From Its History to Its Current Applications in Dermatology, Serena Gianfaldoni, Roberto Gianfaldoni, Uwe Wollina, Jacopo Lotti, Georgi Tchernev,and Torello Lotti, Open Access Maced J Med Sci. 2017 Jul 25; 5(4): 521–525
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