Medical Terminology Daily (MTD) is a blog sponsored by Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc. as a service to the medical community. We post anatomical, medical or surgical terms, their meaning and usage, as well as biographical notes on anatomists, surgeons, and researchers through the ages. Be warned that some of the images used depict human anatomical specimens.

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A Moment in History

Jean-Louis Petit

Jean Louis Petit
(1674 – 1750)

French surgeon and anatomist, Jean Louis Petit was born in Paris in on March 13, 1674.  His family rented an apartment at his house to Alexis Littre (1658 – 1726), a French anatomist. Petit became an apprentice of Littre at seven years of age, helping him in the dissections for his lectures and at an early age became the assistant in charge of the anatomic amphitheater.

Because of Petit’s dedication to anatomy and medicine, in 1690 at the age of sixteen, became a disciple of a famous Paris surgeon, Castel.

In 1692, Petit entered the French army and performed surgery in two military campaigns. By 1693 he started delivering lectures and was accepted as a great surgeon, being invited to the most difficult operations.  In 1700 he was appointed Chief Surgeon of the Military School in Paris and in the same year he received the degree of Master of Surgery from the Faculty of Paris.

In 1715 he was made a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences and an honorary member of the Royal Society of London. He was appointed by the King as the first Director General of the Royal Academy of Surgery when it was founded in 1731.

Petit’s written works are of historical importance.  “Traite des Maladies des Os” ( A Treatise on Bone Diseases);  “Traite des Maladies Chirurgicales et des Operation” (A Treatise on Surgical Diseases and their Operations” This last book was published posthumously in 1774. He also published a monograph on hemorrhage, another on lachrymal fistula, and others.

He was one of the first to perform choIecystotomy and mastoidotomy. His original tourniquet design for amputations saved many in the battlefield and the design of the same surgical instrument today has not changed much since its invention by him.

His name is remembered in the lumbar triangle, also called the "triangle of Petit", and the abdominal hernia that can ensue through that area of weakness, the lumbar hernia or "Petit's hernia".

Sources:
1. “Jean Louis Petit – A Sketch of his Life, Character, and Writings” Hayne, AP San Fran Western Lancet 1875 4: 446-454
2. “Oeuvres compl?tes de Jean-Louis Petit” 1837 Imprimerie de F. Chapoulaud
3. Extraits de l'eloge de Jean-Louis Petit Ius dans Ia seance publique de I' Academie royale de chirurgie du 26 mai 1750” Louis A. Chirurgie 2001: 126 : 475- 81


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Cancer

The term [cancer] is Latin and means "crab". The word was first used by Galen of Pergamon (129AD - 200AD) who used it to describe the crab-like appearence of the veins of a cancerous tumor, probably a breast cancer. Galen said "... as a crab's feet extend from every part of its body, so in this disease are the veins distended, forming a similar figure". The term cancer is also used in other applications, such as astronomy (Tropic of Cancer) and astrology, as in the zodiacal sign of Cancer. 

The Latin term [cancer] was probably pronounced "kanker" and this may be the origin of the term [canker] to refer to ulcerations around the mouth or angles of the mouth, canker sores. This is also probably the origin of the term [chancre] used for some dried-out sore wounds. 

Greek terms merged into the New Latin, so the Greek terms derived from [karkinos] also made it into modern medical terminology.

Cancer (Wikipedia)
    Colon cancer. Click on the image for a larger picture of a different cancer. WARNING: The larger image could be disturbing.

The word [cancer] is used today to denote a malignant tumor. There are variations of the term using the root term [-carcin-] as in [carcinoma].

The accompanying image is that of a colon specimen with a cancerous tumor. If you click on the image a larger depiction of a cancer of the breast will appear. WARNING: This secondary image could be disturbing to some of our readers.

Sources
1. “A Dictionary of Medical Derivations" Casselman W. Parthenon Publishing, 1997
2. "The origin of Medical Terms: Skinner, 1970
3. "Cancer - Wikipedia"
Images courtesy of Wikipedia 

Personal note: This article is published in memory of my cousin Hugo Barahona who passed away on January 1st 2014 with a cancerous pathology. May he rest in peace. Dr. Miranda 

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