A doyen of oncology in the country, Dr. S. Krishnamurthi was born on September 12, 1919 to Sundara Reddy and Muthulakshmi Reddy, India’s first woman medical graduate. He completed MBBS in 1942 and M.S. in 1946. In 1947, he went abroad to work as a Fellow member of the Ellis Fischel State Cancer Hospital, Missouri, U.S. and later at the Royal Cancer Hospital, London. Right through, he immersed himself in oncology, an interest that dictated the rest of his life.
S. Krishnamurthi, was the adviser (Research and Planning), Cancer Institute (WIA), Adyar, at the time of his death on July 3, 2010. He was earlier Scientific Director 1954-1959, Director and Scientific Director 1959-1980 and Vice-Chairman since 1980. He was an Honorary Surgeon to the president of India 1987-1992.
On returning to India, Dr. Krishnamurthi took charge as head of the Cancer Unit, Government General Hospital here. His close associate and collaborator of many years, V. Shanta, Director, Cancer Institute, recalled in an interview to Frontline in August 2005, how Dr. Krishnamurthi tried to kill corruption that was rampant in the hospital at that time.
It is said that his interest in the causes and treatment of cancer was kindled by his mother. Muthulakshmi Reddy started the Adyar Cancer Institute as a four-bed unit in 1954, and Dr. Krishnamurthi became her natural heir there. He took over as Director in 1959 and the Institute grew to 450 beds in 2010. He and Dr. Shanta were the only doctors on call at the Institute in the initial years when treatment of cancer in India was in its infancy.
For Dr. Krishnamurthi, working to eradicate cancer was his life’s purpose and he devoted all his time and energy to this mission. He advocated the idea that it was important to detect cancer in the initial stages in order to be able to cure it
In 1970, the government recognized his pioneering efforts towards understanding and treatment of cancer and awarded him the Padma Shri. From 1965, he was on one or more committees of the World Health Organisation up until 1982. In 1983, he became a member of the Advisory Committee on Cancer Control and Planning of the Central government. He was also a much sought-after expert in his field. He has more than 70 publications in scientific journals/books and a lifetime achievement awardee by the Indian Society of Oncology.
For the alumni of the institute, he was a man of great vision, ideas and a great guide. In fact he was the first in the 1960s to treat the patient with radiation before surgery in breast cancer. This marked a paradigm shift in the treatment of large tumours. We fondly remember Dr. Krishnamurthi’s compassion as he used to insist that if the patient had no one else to take care of him/her, the doctors must do so.
He is survived by a son and a daughter.