London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972

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East Ham 1955

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for East Ham]

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3. Deaths from cancer of the breast and of the womb both show no increase; so that it is in
cancer of the lung in women that the heaviest toll of life is extracted
4. With cancer of the digestive organs the picture is much brighter as for both sexes there
is a significant drop in mortality over the past three years.
No thinking person can fail to see that the change in social habits of women relating to
the increase in lung cancer is that of smoking,
Women increasingly have adopted the practice of heavy cigarette smoking during the past
twenty years. It is known that the 'latent period' for cancer of the lung is a long one
(15 to 30 years) so that it is just what one would expect, a gradual increase in the "end
products' of twenty years heavy smoking in women, i. e. twenty years of chronic irritation
of the lung; and unhappily the end product of this type of chronic irritation may be cancer
of the lung
I know the futility of trying to teach adults in this borough the wisdom of cutting down
or stopping completely the smoking habit; one has to face the hostility of a certain section
of the medical profession; the dogged opposition of many men who hold dear the right to
self-murder, and the frivolous antagonism of countless women who for half a century have
belligerently clamoured for the privileges and vices, vested in men only, since Raleigh s time
in the reign of the first Elizabeth,
I believe this venture into health education may succeed when begun in the schools with the
eleven plus scholars, but even here I am not too sanguine of success for how can thinking
children be instructed to refrain from doing something, practised with such fervour and zest
by their elders, including their teachers of both sexes.

An observation on Deaths from Cancer in East Ham

195319541955
Population of East Ham119,000117,700116, 100
Total deaths from all forms of cancer212220246
Deaths from Cancer of the Lung, in both sexes475666
Deaths from Cancer of the Lungs, in WOMEN ONLY61323
Deaths from Cancer of the Breast212123
Deaths from Cancer of the Womb (uterus)944
Deaths from Cancer of the Digestive Organs in WOMEN ONLY372512
Deaths from Cancer of the Digestive Organs in MEN ONLY423617
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Research.
The Council have always readily agreed to the Health Department taking part in fields of
research sponsored by accredited representatives of various scientific bodies The work usually
entails additional effort on the part of different groups of staff, but I have found the
interest and enthusiasm engendered more than offsets the hours and effort so generously given.
Both the Council and health staff should be proud to have been given the opportunity to take
part in scientific investigations designed to elucidate difficult problems in morbidity and
mortality, and in the end to better the lot of mankind.
I can look back over twenty years of work in the public health service of East Ham, and
remark on the improvement in housing hygiene school and clinic accommodation and the
development of the personal health services But I am not so sure that I see a comparable
increase in happiness either among the staff of the Council or in the people they serve


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