On October 1st 1890, William B. Coley, a young bone surgeon barely two years out of medical school, saw one of his first patients in private practice at the New York Memorial Hospital. Although he’d only finished his residency earlier the same year, he’d already gained a good reputation and many considered him a rising star of the New York surgical scene.
The seventeen year old patient had a painful, rapidly growing lump on the back of her right hand. She had pinched the unlucky appendage between two railway carriage seats on a transcontinental trip to Alaska some months before, and when the bruise failed to heal she assumed the injury had become infected. However the bruise turned into a bulge, the pain steadily worsened, and her baffled doctors were eventually compelled to call for Dr. Coley. As a surgical man, Coley would never have guessed that this innocuous referral would take his career in a totally new direction– into an unusual branch of medicine now known as cancer immunotherapy.