Robert B. Greenough

Robert B. Greenough

Surgical Pathology
Harvard Medical School
Boston, Massachusetts

A leader among a group of brilliant Boston scientists in the early 20th century, Dr. Greenough was affiliated with Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital for his entire career. He received his undergraduate degree (1893) and medical degree (1896) from Harvard and had additional training in Vienna and Göettingen, where he studied pathology and became interested in cancer.

He was a surgeon with the first Harvard Unit of the American Ambulance Corps on the French front at the start of World War I, and when the United States entered the war he served as lieutenant commander in charge of the surgical service at the Naval Hospital in Chelsea, Massachusetts. After the war he became assistant surgeon under Dr. John Collins Warren, II (another AACR founder) at Harvard and worked with him to establish funding mechanisms for cancer treatment.

Dr. Greenough was secretary of the Cancer Commission of Harvard University, building and staffing the Collis P. Huntington Memorial Hospital for Cancer Research and developing the Consultation Cancer Clinics at Huntington and Massachusetts General Hospital (the first “tumor clinics”). The clinics served as models for institutions later opened throughout the country. In an early attempt to derive best practices for cancer diagnosis and treatment, he surveyed surgeons, including AACR members, and published recommendations (guidelines) in 1917.

During his 21-year tenure as assistant professor of surgery at Harvard, Dr. Greenough consistently recognized the need for epidemiologic studies of cancer and mentored the work of pioneers such as Eleanor MacDonald (later of MD Anderson Cancer Center). He considered the study of tumors his life’s calling, however, and wrote extensively on the subject, including a contribution on surgery of the breast to the important textbook edited by Albert J. Ochsner, Surgical Diagnosis and Treatment, by American Authors, published in 1920. 

He was president of the American College of Surgeons in 1934-1935, where in 1922 he had founded the Committee on the Treatment of Malignant Diseases. He was also president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, the Boston Surgical Association, the American Surgical Association, and the American Society for the Control of Cancer (now the American Cancer Society). As AACR president in 1920, he dealt with serious financial issues, working to control the expense of publishing the Journal of Cancer Research (now Cancer Research). With the help of other AACR leaders, funding was obtained from the Crocker Fund to maintain the journal.