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Medical Terminology Daily (MTD) is a blog sponsored by Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc. as a service to the medical community, medical students, and the medical industry. We will post a workweek daily medical or surgical term, its 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

Thomas Willis, MD
Thomas Willis
(1621-1675)

An English physician and anatomist, Willis was born on his parents' farm in Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire, where his father held the stewardship of the Manor. He was a kinsman of the Willys baronets of Fen Ditton, Cambridgeshire. He graduated M.A. from Christ Church, Oxford in 1642. In the Civil War years he was a royalist, and was dispossessed of the family farm at North Hinksey by Parliamentary forces. In the 1640's Willis was one of the royal physicians to Charles I of England. He obtained his medical degree in 1646.

Thomas Willis might well be one of the greatest physicians of the 17th century.He is one of the founders of the Royal Society of London. He is remembered by his many publications, especially "Cerebri Anatome: Cui accessit Nervorum Descriptio et Usu", where he describes the arterial anastomoses at the base of the brain. This work is also the first detailed description of the vasculature of the brain. Willis described nine cranial nerves.

He is considered as the father of Neurology as a discipline. He used the term "neurology" for the first time in 1664. He described several neurological conditions

The Arterial Circle of Willis is a famous eponymous structure found at the base of the brain. It represents an anastomotic roundabout that connects the right and left sides as well as the carotid and vertebral arterial territories that supply the brain. Named after Thomas Willis, this structure was known well before him, but it was Willis who described its function.  If you click on the image or here, you will be redirected to a detailed description of this structure.

Sources:

1. "The legendary contributions of Thomas Willis (1621-1675): the arterial circle and beyond" Rengachary SS et al J Neurosurg. 2008 Oct;109(4):765-75
2. "Thomas Willis, a pioneer in translational research in anatomy (on the 350th anniversary of Cerebri anatome)" Arraez-AybarJournal of Anatomy, 03/2015, Volume 226, Issue 3
3. " The naming of the cranial nerves: A historical review" Davis, M Clinical Anatomy, 01/2014, Volume 27, Issue 1
4. "Observations on the history of the circle of Willis". Meyer A, Hieros, R.Med Hist 6:119–130, 1962


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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