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William Bradley Coley, MD, and the phenomenon of spontaneous regression

Authors Vernon LF

Received 27 January 2018

Accepted for publication 22 February 2018

Published 23 April 2018 Volume 2018:7 Pages 29—34

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/ITT.S163924

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Amy Norman

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Professor Michael Shurin


Leonard F Vernon

Sherman College of Chiropractic, Spartanburg, SC, USA

Abstract: The standard definition of spontaneous regression (SR) of cancer is as follows, “…when a malignant tumor partially or completely disappears without treatment or in the presence of therapy which is considered inadequate to exert a significant influence on neoplastic disease.” SR is also known as Saint Peregrine tumor, the name taken from a young priest, Peregrine Laziosi (1260 [5]–1345, exact date is unknown), who had been diagnosed with a tumor of the tibia. The mass eventually grew so large that it broke through the skin and became severely infected. The available treatment for this condition was limited to amputation. Historical records report that on the day of surgery, physicians found that the tumor had disappeared and reportedly never returned. To date, the medical literature consists only of individual case studies and overviews of this phenomenon. The most cited work on the subject was done by surgeons Tilden Everson and Warren Cole who reviewed 176 published cases of SR from 1900 to 1960. While a percentage of these were found not to be cases of SR, there remained a number of unexplained cases. A frequent theme in many cases of SR is the co-occurrence of infection. Given the current interest in immunotherapy in the treatment of cancer, this article discusses one of the very early pioneers of this theory, William Bradley Coley, MD, a surgeon who was clearly ahead of his time. Ostracized by colleagues for his belief that stimulation of the immune system could in fact produce a regression of cancer, Coley remained convinced that his theory was right and, while he was not familiar with cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interferons, and streptokinase, he knew instinctively that an innate immune response was taking place.

Keywords: autoimmunity, cancer, fever, infection, immunotherapy, tumor, cytokines

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