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(January 9, 1899 - February 6, 1971)
Born in United States
Year of Discovery: 1930
Pioneered Use of X-Rays for Breast Cancer Detection
Using mammograms as a screening tool has saved the lives of over 1.6 million breast cancer patients. In the 1950s Jacob Gershon-Cohen began using mammograms to screen healthy women for breast cancer. His astounding results and determined advocacy started an era of early detection and improved survival.
When Gershon-Cohen was a radiologist in Philadelphia, at the Albert Einstein Medical Center, he conducted a five year study that screened thirteen hundred healthy women every six months. Colleagues asked, "Why do mammograms on healthy women?!" In his study, 92 of the "healthy women" were diagnosed with non-malignant tumors while 23 were diagnosed with malignant tumors! These results convinced Gershon-Cohen about the merits of mammograms and how important it was for healthy women to be screened. He spent the next 40 years of his career relentlessly trying to convince physicians and the public how vital early detection of breast cancer was to survival. Recent studies show that each screening mammogram reduced the risk of breast cancer death by 31%!
Jacob Gershon-Cohen almost didn't become a doctor; he wasn't even expected to finish high school. He was the oldest of eight children and his family struggled to find enough money to support them all. It was expected that when young Jacob was old enough to work, he would quit school and help support the family...and that's what he did! He had a variety of jobs as a young man: he sold sandwiches, which his mother had made, door to door and even played his violin at a saloon. He received a scholarship for deserving students that allowed him to return to school and graduate in 1918. One day, Jacob heard about a job that was available at the local pharmacy, so he went right over and applied. He was hired on the spot by the pharmacist, Sara, and married her a short time later! With Sara's encouragement, Gershon-Cohen worked his way through college and medical school, becoming an expert in radiology.
Jacob Gershon-Cohen received numerous awards and prizes for his work and dedication. Gershon-Cohen was known for "always trying to find a better way to do things." For example, when he decided that doctors from other hospitals should be able to see x-rays taken at rural centers, he figured out how to send x-rays over telephone lines, calling it "telognosis". Jacob Gershon-Cohen died in 1971 at the age of 72. At the time of his death, he was still going to his office almost every day and actively working on over 15 projects.
Introduction by April Ingram
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ajronline.org biography/obituary (pdf):
Early Detection, by Kristen Elizabeth Gardner discusses Gershon-Cohen's work:
Time Magazine article on Gershon-Cohen's research:
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The Science Behind the Discovery
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