Dr. William Cahan

Dr. William Cahan served as medical advisor to the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute. The Distinguished Professor Award was named in his memory.


William G. Cahan was a thoracic surgeon at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City for more than 50 years. He was a pioneer in national efforts to combat smoking, working both in the medical profession and in government. He was also an author and tireless advocate of laws and educational programs to eradicate smoking.

Dr. Cahan’s clinical work centered mostly on lung cancer and breast cancer. He often referred to his operating room as “Marlboro Country.” His research innovations included advanced studies of the health effects of radiation and the practice of removing lymph nodes between the lungs when performing lung cancer surgery because the cancer tended to spread in these areas. He was irrepressible in speaking out against cigarette smoke. From actors to taxi cab drivers he would say “cut it out.”

Born in 1914, Bill Cahan grew up in New York City, graduated from Harvard College in 1935 and received his medical degree from Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1939. After serving in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II, he joined the surgery department at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in 1949 where he spent his life combating the diseases caused by direct and involuntary smoke inhalation. In 1974, he married Grace Mirabella-Cahan, the former editor of Vogue and Mirabella magazines. They acted as a united force to bring attention to the public health menace resulting from exposure to second hand tobacco smoke. Such efforts included lobbying the City Council of New York in the late 1980’s to restrict smoking in restaurants and public buildings.

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