Bernard Peyrilhe

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Bernard Peyrilhe
Pompignan, France
Known forPioneering cancer research and surgery
Scientific career

Bernard Peyrilhe (1737–1804)[1] was a French surgeon, known as one of the founders of experimental cancer research.[2] Peyrilhe was born in Pompignan,[3] and became a lecturer at the Paris School of Surgery (École de Chirurgie).[1]

In 1773, Peyrilhe was studying for a PhD,[4] when he wrote the first systematic review of cancer[5] in a prize-winning essay which he submitted to the Academy of Letters and Fine Arts in Lyon in response to an essay competition entitled What is Cancer?.[1] His essay covered the nature of the disease, its growth, treatment, and how a "virus" produced by the tumor caused wasting (cachexia).[5] At the time, the term "virus" meant any substance which came from an animal's body and which could transmit a disease.[6] Peyrilhe attempted to demonstrate this virus, by injecting an emulsion of fluid from a human breast cancer into a wound he had created on the back of a dog.[1][5] He kept the dog at his home to observe it, but the dog developed an abscess at the injection site and howled so much that Peyrilhe's servants drowned it.[7] As is now understood, the transfer of cancerous tissue between species is generally unsuccessful, as the recipient's immune system recognizes cells from a different species as foreign, and destroys them (a graft-versus-host interaction).[8]

Also in 1773, Peyrihle was the first surgeon to treat breast cancer by radical mastectomy which included both the pectoral muscle and axillary lymph nodes.[9] He considered that the risks of amputating the pectoral muscle were outweighed by the otherwise certain outcome of death.[10]

Peyrilhe also successfully treated ulceration with carbolic acid, which was, at the time, a recently discovered acid.[5]


  • Peyrilhe, Bernard (1774). Dissertatio Academica de Cancro [A dissertation on cancerous diseases] (in Latin). J.J.G. De Marcour.
  • Peyrilhe, Bernard (1786). Remède nouveau contre les maladies vénériennes [New cure for venereal diseases] (in French).


  1. ^ a b c d de Moulin, Daniel (1983). "Chapter 4: Pathophysiological Concepts in the Age of Enlightenment". A Short History of Breast Cancer. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. p. 36. ISBN 9789401706018.
  2. ^ Khan, Mike; Pelengaris, Stella (2013). "Chapter 1: Overview of cancer biology". In Pelengaris, Stella; Khan, Mike (eds.). The molecular biology of cancer : a bridge from bench to bedside (2nd ed.). New York, N.Y: Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-118-02287-0.
  3. ^ Thomas, Joseph (1915). Universal Pronouncing Dictionary of Biography and Mythology (4th ed.). Philadelphia and London: J.B. Lippincott. p. 1936.
  4. ^ Shah, Amil (1994). "Chapter 1: Virchow's Cell". Solving the riddle of cancer : new genetic approaches to treatment. Toronto: Hounslow. pp. 7–8. ISBN 9780888821652.
  5. ^ a b c d Ewing, James (1922). "General oncology. Chapter 1. History". Neoplastic Diseases: A Treatise on Tumors (2nd ed.). W. B. Saunders. p. 19.
  6. ^ Moore, Dan H. (1975). "4. Mammary Tumor Virus. 1. Introduction". In Becker, Frederick F. (ed.). Cancer a Comprehensive Treatise 2 Etiology: Viral Carcinogenesis. Boston, MA: Springer US. p. 131. ISBN 9781468427332.
  7. ^ Faguet, Guy (2015). "Chapter 2: An Historical Overview: From Prehistory to WWII. From Medieval Europe to World War II". The Conquest of Cancer: A Distant Goal. p. 24. ISBN 9789401791656.
  8. ^ Nery, R. (1986). "Chapter Animal recipients: Novinsky, Peyrilhe, and Others". Cancer: An Enigma in Biology and Society. London: Croom Helm. ISBN 9781468480917.
  9. ^ O'Connor, Stephen (2009). "Chapter 11: Surgery". In Corner, Jessica; Bailey, Christopher (eds.). Cancer Nursing Care in Context (2nd ed.). Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. p. 218. ISBN 9781444309256.
  10. ^ Kaartinen, Marjo (2013). "Chapter 2: "But Sad Resources": Treating Cancer in the Eighteenth Century". Breast cancer in the eighteenth century. London: Pickering & Chatto. p. 53. ISBN 978-1-84893-364-4.