I have been told that some experiments done by Nazi doctors became the precursor for some early work in radiotherapy and other cancer treatments.

Although, this may very easily be Nazi sympathizer propaganda. Maybe someone with actual knowledge of the beginnings of cancer research can enlighten me as to whether there is any truth to this claim?

  • 3
    As in xkcd.com/984 (rockets rather than cancer treatment)
    – Henry
    Nov 30, 2014 at 17:58
  • 6
    I do not think there is any sensible reason to suspect scientists working under bad regimes cannot produce good research. Generally, German scientist were among the very best in the first quarter of the 20th century, and, though some disciplines did suffer under the idealogical and plain racial prosecution, many continued to thrive, and medicine was certainly among them. There is quite a lot on this in the book Hitler's Scientists, by the way.
    – P_S
    Nov 30, 2014 at 18:21
  • 4
    Do all German scientists from 1933 onward count as "Nazi doctors" for the purposes of this question?
    – ChrisW
    Nov 30, 2014 at 20:28
  • 7
    Is this question really "Were cancer treatments developed using knowledge obtained in Nazi Germany using practices which would have been considered unethical in liberal democracies of the same era?" Dec 2, 2014 at 13:04
  • 3
    related question on HSM.
    – HDE 226868
    Dec 4, 2014 at 18:30

1 Answer 1


Yes. See Proctor's The Nazi War on Cancer (1999). A few quotes:

German epidemiologists ... managed to prove, securely and for the first time anywhere, that smoking was the major cause of lung cancer. ...

More than a thousand medical doctoral theses explored cancer in one form or another in the twelve years of Nazi rule ... Cancer registries were established, including the first German registries to record cancer morbidity (incidence) and not just mortality (deaths). Efforts were made to strengthen prevention- oriented public health measures, including occupational safeguards, laws against the adulteration of food and drugs, bans on smoking, and programs to reduce the use of cancer-causing cosmetics, to name only a few. ...

One of the more arresting features of the Nazi anticancer effort was its emphasis on prevention.

enter image description here

it was in Germany in the late 1930s that we first find a broad medical recognition of both the addictive nature of tobacco and the lung cancer hazard of smoking. ...

The Nazi war on tobacco shows that what most people would concede to be "good" science can be pursued in the name of antidemocratic ideals.

Also, separately, there is Pernkopf's Anatomy. Here's a recent New York Times story on its use (though not specifically for cancer): In Israel, Modern Medicine Grapples With Ghosts of the Third Reich.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .