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Cancer incidence in Madras Presidency in 1892–1901: William Niblock's commentary of 1902

1 University of Notre Dame (School of Medicine), Henry Street, Fremantle, WA 6130, Australia
2 Charles Sturt University, Orange, NSW 2800, Australia

Correspondence Address:
Anantanarayanan Raman,
Charles Sturt University, Orange, NSW 2800
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijc.IJC_302_20

PMID: 32769292

William J. Niblock (WJN), an Assistant Surgeon at the Madras General Hospital (MGH), published a paper 'Cancer in India' (2 pages of text and 3 pages of tables) in the Indian Medical Gazette in 1902. He appears to have been a popular surgeon in Madras who surgically treated mouth cancers, testicular filariasis, and calcareous stones in the liver, gall bladder, and kidney. His 'Cancer in India' article is a compilation of numerical data of different cancers recorded in MGH from 1892 to 1901 mostly, and from 1896 to 1901 occasionally. In this article, WJN refers to cancers of different internal organs and external parts. He attributes the mouth cancers to constant chewing of 'betel' (the betel quid), which he explains as giving rise to leukoplakia, forerunner of buccal carcinoma. He supplies many, easily comparable, paired tables. These tables are made of raw numbers about the diverse human populations living in Madras, such as the Indians (Hindus and Muslims), Europeans, and Eurasians (Anglo-Indians) extracted from the 10-year records of MGH. None of the tables has been analyzed statistically. Nevertheless, he supplies the total numbers of admissions into MGH, which serve usefully as denominators in this study; occasionally, he presents data as percentages. Despite the lack of parametric statistical analysis, WJN's article, written in 1902, impresses as a useful contribution, because it provides a cross-sectional view of cancer incidence in Madras, particularly in defiance of Saldanha's supposition that cancers do not manifest in dark-skinned people, such as Indians.

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