Dr. Edward F. Lewison

The Baltimore Sun

Dr. Edward F. Lewison, an internationally recognized surgeon and authority on breast cancer who was a founder and former chief of the Johns Hopkins Hospital's Breast Clinic, died Monday of heart failure at his home in the Winthrop House condominiums on North Charles Street. He was 94.

"Ed was a model practicing surgeon who had a special interest in breast cancer. He was always knowledgeable in new developments and treatments," said Dr. Richard S. Ross, former dean of the Hopkins School of Medicine. "He was a very polite and warm person who always exuded confidence and competence."

Dr. Lewison - the son of a physician - was born and raised in Chicago. He earned a bachelor's degree in 1932 from the University of Chicago, and he graduated in 1936 from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he trained in surgery.

During World War II, he served in the Army Medical Corps as a lieutenant colonel. He commanded a M.A.S.H. hospital in the European theater of operations while serving with the 192nd General Hospital unit.

At the end of the war, Dr. Lewison returned to Hopkins and was a founder of the hospital's breast surgery clinic, of which he served as chief from 1945 until 1972.

When he founded the clinic, the standard treatment, which remained so for many years, Dr. Lewison told a Sun reporter in an interview about a decade ago, was the radical operation that called for the removal of the affected breast plus all underlying muscles and glandular tissue under the armpit. The surgery was devised by Dr. William S. Halstead, first professor of surgery at Hopkins during the 1890s.

"When I began my career in medicine, a woman diagnosed with breast cancer had very few options," Dr. Lewison said in the interview.

"Ed was drawing attention to the subject of breast cancer. For long years, this subject had been recognized as a significant cause of illness and death, and, historically, the department of surgery at Hopkins had been strongly involved with this subject at times," said Dr. Jack Handelsman, a retired Baltimore surgeon and longtime friend.

"Dr. Lewison stimulated and helped vitalize this interest as a founder and leader of the breast clinic. This effort met with high success in participation, helping to treat and fashion medical ideas of treatment for use by Hopkins as well as other hospitals," he said.

He added: "Among his colleagues, Ed Lewison's patient care was regarded as exemplary, with uniform respect for each patient."

Dr. Lewison was an early advocate of self-examination and saw a possible link in the mid-1960s between birth control pills and breast cancer.

"Breast cancer is curable if treated in time, and women can easily learn how to examine themselves for symptoms," he told The Sun in a 1956 interview.

A decade later, he told The Sun he would "hesitate" to recommend birth control pills for women in the high-risk groups for breast cancer, adding, this would include women with a "strong family history" of any kind of cancer, including breast cancer.

He also said the contraceptive "should certainly not be given to women who have been operated on for cancer of one breast."

Dr. R. Robinson Baker, now a retired surgeon, succeeded Dr. Lewison as head of the clinic.

"He was the first surgeon in the area to restrict his practice to breast disease and had a huge practice," Dr. Baker said. "I inherited a very large and successful clinic from him that attracted many, many patients."

Dr. Lewison was an assistant professor of surgery at the Hopkins medical school from 1954 to 1969, and associate professor from 1969 to 1980. He also served as chief of the Tumor Clinic at Sinai Hospital for many years.

In addition to his work at Hopkins, Dr. Lewison also maintained a private surgical practice and was the inventor of rayable gauze, an X-ray-opaque surgical sponge that is still in common use worldwide today.

Dr. Lewison wrote more than 130 medical and surgical papers dealing primarily with diseases of the breast, and spoke widely on the subject.He was the author of Breast Cancer and Its Diagnosis and Treatment, which was published in 1955. He was co-editor of Breast Cancer, published in 1977, and Diagnosis and Treatment of Breast Cancer - International Clinical Forum, published in 1981.

Dr. Lewison was a past president of the Maryland division of the American Cancer Society and in 1969 directed the participation of Hopkins - the only United States hospital selected - in a worldwide clinical study of breast cancer that had been organized by the World Health Organization.

He retired in 1987.

In 1988, the Breast Cancer Research Library at Hopkins was named for him, and in 2002, it was rededicated as the Lewison Library in the Bunting-Blaustein Cancer Research Building.

Dr. Lewison and his wife of 59 years, the former Betty Fleischmann, who survives him, enjoyed collecting miniature cups and saucers, and Lalique crystal, much of which they donated to the Baltimore Museum of Art, Walters Art Museum and the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown.

He was a longtime Orioles fan and for many years enjoyed spending time at a second home the couple owned in Tryall, Jamaica.

"But practicing medicine was the most important thing in his life," Mrs. Lewison said.

A memorial service for Dr. Lewison, who was a member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, 7401 Park Heights Ave., will be held in the congregation's chapel at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Also surviving are three sons, John E. Lewison of Larchmont, N.Y., Edward M. "Ned" Lewison of Baltimore, and Robert S. Lewison of Cherry Hill, N.J.; a sister, Ethel Mae Katz of Chicago; two grandchildren; and a great-grandson. His first wife, the former Elizabeth Oppenheim, died in 1947. Another son, Richard Jay Lewison died in 1996.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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