Date of this Version
Published in Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences, Volume 2 (1973).
Present day clinicians usually rely upon the most recent medical literature to assist them with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases in their patients. The historian, on the other hand, delves into the past and is often rewarded by finding detailed and meticulous descriptions of diseases in the older medical literature. This is especially true of the medical writings of the 19th century before the development of mechanical devices (such as the stethoscope and the electrocardiograph) and modern laboratory tests.
Many conditions and diseases have been named for scientists who were supposed either to have discovered them or initially described them. Historians sometimes find that the conditions were actually described earlier by other investigators, but because their findings were published in obscure journals or in a different language they were not given the proper credit. Such was the case with Sir James Paget, a British surgeon who lived in the 19th century (1814-1899), and whose contemporaries included M. K. Kaposi (Austria), von Recklinghausen, R. Virchow, and J. C. Warren (Germany), and P. Broca, A. Velpeau, and M. Lebert (France) - all physicians who observed and described many different diseases and conditions of man, including cancer and its etiology.
Sir James Paget was a renowned surgical pathologist.1 He is best known for his descriptions of eczema of the nipple with subsequent mammary cancer (1874) (Paget's disease of the nipple) and osteitis deformans (1877) which may develop into osteogenic sarcoma (Paget's disease of the bone). Paget was also known as a keen clinical observer.
The following conditions were all described by Sir James Paget, for only two of which he has been given credit in the medical literature.