Born:

April 28, 1911

(Rexdale, Ontario)

Died:

October 1, 1993

Education:

MD, University of Toronto (1934)

Awards & Honours:

1983: Honorary LLD, Queen’s University

1979: Gold Medal, American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology

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Picture of M. Vera Peters

Revolutionized the treatment of breast cancer and Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Portrait of Vera Peters

An innovative researcher and compassionate physician

One cannot fully appreciate the impact of Dr. Peters’ work without taking into account the challenges she faced as a female in an era when women were not universally accepted as scientists. To graduate in the 1930’s from medical school and emerge out of the 1960’s as a world-class figure in oncology is a testament to her dogged determination and ingenuity. Claiming that research isn’t a question of time but a matter of curiosity, Dr. Peters was a great observer who was driven by the need to explain all that she observed. This curiosity led her to profoundly change the management of Hodgkin’s disease and breast cancer.

Key Facts

Graduated from University of Toronto Medical School as one of only ten women in a class of 115

Became the first female physician in the Faculty of Medicine at University of Toronto to achieve worldwide scientific recognition

Championed patient-centred care

Painstakingly assessed 8,000 patient files by hand for her research on the impact of radiation on breast cancer

Professional timeline

Impact on lives today

When Dr. Peters began her career, Hodgkin’s disease, known more commonly now as Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was thought to be incurable. There was little that physicians could do except provide a terminal prognosis. On the other hand, the treatment of breast care involved substantial intervention. Before Dr. Peters, 98% of women with breast cancer were treated with radical mastectomy, a physically and emotionally difficult procedure. Today the impact of Dr. Vera’s legacy is clear. Hodgkin’s is thought to be one of the curable adult cancers and conservative treatment for breast cancer is the status quo. Thousands of lives have been forever changed by Dr. Peters and will continue to be in the future.

Picture of M. Vera Peters

2010

  • Dr. Vera Peter's daughter, Dr. Jennifer Ingram, at podium

    M. Vera Peters posthumously inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

    Represented by her daughter, Dr. Jennifer Ingram. Calgary, Alberta.

  • Dr. Peters’ observations continued to be met with skepticism

    Cancer

    It was not until 2002 that a conservative approach to early-stage present cancer was officially endorsed.

  • Dr. Peters published the first controlled study to demonstrate that lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy had success outcomes equal to or better than more radical procedures

    Cancer, Women in Medicine

    These findings, she argued, demonstrate that “radical methods are not in the best interests of the patients.” At a meeting of 400 doctors that same year, her presentation was heckled by the audience.

  • Dr. Peters continued to conduct research on Hodgkin’s disease but also expanded her scope to breast cancer research

    She was strongly against the use of radical mastectomy as the main form of treatment as it was a physically and emotionally distressing procedure.

  • The Ontario Cancer Institute was established at the Princess Margaret Hospital

    Cancer

    Dr. Peters worked at the Princess Margaret from this time until her retirement in 1976.

  • Dr. M. Vera Peters published her landmark study that suggested early-stage Hodgkin’s was potentially curable with radiation therapy

    Cancer, Women in Medicine

    Dr. Peters had presented her radiology research findings to staff of the Toronto General Hospital the year previous to this.

  • Dr. Gordon Richards installed a 400-kiloelectronvolts (keV) radiation machine at the Ontario Cancer Institute

    At the Institute, Dr. Peters began to treat cancer patients and to investigate the influence of radiation on patients undergoing treatment for Hodgkin’s disease.

  • Dr. Peters joined the full-time staff of the Toronto General Hospital’s radiotherapy service

    As a result, she became one of the first women to hold a clinical appointment in a teaching hospital.

1937

She left footprints for people to stand in and move forward.