It was whilst working as a missionary doctor in Uganda that Denis Burkitt identified the childhood cancer that would take his name, Burkitt’s lymphoma. He spotted swellings in the lymph nodes on children’s’ jaws. This cancer begins in the white blood cells (stained purple here) that form part of our immune system. It’s the fastest growing human tumour, though today around nine in ten children can survive with treatment. Burkitt made a second, unrelated observation when in Uganda. The people he was treating lived largely on vegetables. He noted that they typically produced more faeces, and with less discomfort, than westerners and rarely suffered from diseases such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes, which are common in the western world. This led Burkitt to suggest that fibre is key to staying healthy. He said, “America is a constipated nation... If you pass small stools, you have to have large hospitals.”
Written by Deborah Oakley
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