Professor Cesare Maltoni was one of the leading scientists of this century: a pioneer in environmental and industrial carcinogenesis, cancer prevention, chemoprevention, but above all an exceptional man who fought to defend public health and the environment with all of his extraordinary abilities. At the Bentivoglio Castle laboratories he directed long-term carcinogenicity bioassays on around 200 substances present in the occupational and general environment.
He was the first to demonstrate that vinyl chloride is a carcinogen both for animals and for humans and causes, amongst other tumours, angiosarcoma of the liver. He was also the first to show that benzene is a multipotential carcinogen and that formaldehyde causes leukaemias.
He was born in Faenza (Ravenna province) on 17 November 1930. He obtained a degree in Medicine and Surgery in the academic year 1954-55 at Bologna University. He was Director of the Bologna Institute of Oncology (1964-1997), Director of the Bolognese Centre for the Prevention, Diagnosis of Tumours and Cancer Research (1966-1989), and Scientific Director of the Ramazzini Institute and of the “B. Ramazzini” European Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences until his death on 22 January 2001.
Some of Professor Maltoni’s main contributions:
- establishment of the relevance of connective tissue changes in carcinogenesis and natural history of the formation of tumours and metastases;
- documentation of the multipotential nature of carcinogenic agents, that is to say, the fact they act on many organs and tissues;
- pioneering of the use of animal models for the identification of environmental carcinogens, the assessment of carcinogenic risks, and the evaluation of tumour chemopreventive compounds;
- establishment of the carcinogenicity of several important industrial agents including vinyl chloride, vinylidene chloride, acrylonitrile, trichloroethylene, chlorofluorocarbons, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, benzene, petrol aromatics, and methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE);
- demonstration that many agents present or contaminants in the environment, in water and in food are carcinogenic: asbestos, glass wool, ceramic fibres, pesticides, vinyl acetate, chlorine, ethyl alcohol, methyl alcohol;
- demonstration of the potential chemopreventive effect of tamoxifen, leuprolide, olive oil;
- planning of the first experiments on the potential carcinogenic effects of aspartame, of low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF), of radio frequencies (RF) and of low dose ionizing radiation;
- documentation of high oncogenic risk due to exposure to asbestos used in the railway and sugar industries;
- establishment of the Nominative Register of Mortality with particular regard to cancer, for Bologna and the Province and another 19 Italian geographical areas;
- promotion and direction of the first screening programmes in Italy of 270,000 women for early diagnosis of uterine cervical cancer and 125,000 women for early diagnosis of breast cancer;
- creation of the first Italian hospice for terminal cancer patients.
The many awards he received include the Stokinger Award of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), in Kansas City, in 1995; the “B. Ramazzini” International Award of the Collegium Ramazzini, in Washington, in 1995; the International Award in Memory of I.J. Selikoff, in Washington, in 1995; the Sigillum Magnum of the University of Bologna in 1997.
For much of his life Professor Maltoni followed the philosophy of Benardino Ramazzini and taught us that:
“The high costs [human and economic]
Are probably the reason why,
in the sector of environmental
and experimental carcinogenesis,
words take the place of facts,
opinions take the place of data,
and committee debates and reports
act as surrogates for good laboratory work”