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Doll, Sir Richard

nuclear cancer medical medicine

(1912– ) British epidemiologist: showed relationship of smoking with lung cancer.

Trained in medicine in London, Doll served in the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) throughout the Second World War and afterwards worked with the Medical Research Council (1946–69) and in Oxford as Regius Professor of Medicine (1969–79). His first job in epidemiology in 1944 was directed, unsuccessfully, to finding if peptic ulcers were linked with long working hours. Then, with R Peto (1943– ), he established in the 1950s that cigarette smoking is causally linked with lung cancer, a result in accord with the fact that tobacco smoke, like tar and soot, contains the carcinogen benzo[a]pyrene. A massive study was begun of the health of 35 000 doctors, continued for over 40 years.

Then he studied the relation between exposure to low levels of high energy radiation and cancer; the worldwide nuclear test ban treaty owed something to this work. In the 1960s he examined the side effects of the contraceptive pill; the oestrogen level in these was later changed to reduce the slight risk of thrombosis his work had revealed. His later work examined the effects of radiation in inducing cancers in servicemen who attended the early nuclear weapon tests, in populations living near nuclear power plants and in households living under overhead power lines or above radon-emitting rock. His work showed that risks were very low in these cases, except for the last, in which underfloor ventilation should be installed.

Dolland, John [next]

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