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[Perspectives] Ovarian cancer

On Christmas Day 1809, as the residents of Danville, Kentucky, sang carols in their churches, Jane Todd Crawford prepared for a terrible ordeal. 46 years old and the mother of four children, Crawford believed she was pregnant again with twins, but the full term had passed and her belly continued to swell. On Dec 13, 1809, she consulted the surgeon Ephraim McDowell, who diagnosed a massive ovarian tumour. Born in 1771, McDowell studied medicine in Virginia and Edinburgh, where he might have read John Hunter’s discussion of surgery for ovarian cancer.