Sir Richard Doll, CH, OBE, FRS, DSc, MD, DM, FRCP, FFPHM, a leader in establishing the link between smoking and lung cancer, among other diseases, died July 24 at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford after a short illness. He was 92.
“Richard Doll's work has prevented millions of premature deaths in the 20th century, and will prevent tens of millions of premature deaths in the present century,” said his colleague Sir Richard Peto, FRS, in a statement issued by Oxford University. “He was unique in medical history.”
In a 1950 study with Sir Austin Bradford Hill, CBE, FRS, Sir Richard Doll showed that smoking was “a cause, and a major cause” of lung cancer. As explained in information from Oxford, Sir Richard and Sir Austin the next year began a study that would ultimately last for 50 years, interviewing all doctors in Great Britain to see if they smoked and then tracking them to ascertain their cause of death.
The early results of the study showed that smokers were much more likely to die of lung cancer than were nonsmokers. The 10-year results showed that smoking killed far more people from other diseases than from lung cancer, and the 20-, 40-, and 50-year results, published in collaboration with Sir Richard Peto, showed that smoking killed half of all persistent smokers.
Professor Doll published the 50-year follow-up of the British Doctors' Study when he was 91, on the 50th anniversary of the first publication from the study, in the British Medical Journal. The study found that, on average, cigarette smokers die 10 years younger than do nonsmokers, but quitting at age 50 cuts the risk in half, and quitting at age 30 avoids almost all the risk.
Sir Richard's research also showed that smoking causes many other types of cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, and peptic ulcer.
A scientist whose work extended to various areas, Sir Richard conducted studies that found that the benefits of oral contraceptives outweighed the risks, that aspirin could protect against heart disease, and that drinking alcohol increased the risk of breast cancer.
Sir Richard was appointed Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford in 1969, a position he held until 1979, when he became the first Warden of Green College in Oxford and Director of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit.
Although he retired from administrative work in 1983, he continued his research within Oxford's Clinical Trials Service Unit, co-directed by Sir Richard Peto and Rory Collins, MD.
Sir Richard was born October 28, 1912 in Hampton, England. He attended St. Thomas' Hospital Medical School at the University of London, and he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps when World War II began, serving in France from 1939 to 1940 and in the Middle East from 1941 to 1944. In 1948, he began working with Sir Austin at the Medical Research Council's Statistical Research Unit.