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Robert J. McKenna, 78; USC Cancer Surgeon, Teacher

February 05, 2004|From a Times Staff Writer

Dr. Robert J. McKenna, a USC surgical oncologist who had served as president of the American Cancer Society, has died. He was 78.

McKenna died Jan. 13 in Newport Beach of unspecified causes.

During his year at the helm of the national cancer health agency in 1985, McKenna launched a cancer prevention study of 1.2 million volunteers to determine risk factors that cause cancer deaths.

He also led the American Cancer Society, along with the American Heart Assn. and American Lung Assn., in forming the Coalition on Smoking or Health to seek federal restrictions on smoking and tobacco advertising.

McKenna worked with the American Cancer Society for four decades, including heading a committee to promote insurance coverage and employment for recovered cancer patients. His work helped lead to passage of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

He also served as president of the Los Angeles unit of the American Cancer Society in 1962-63 and of the California division from 1974 to 1976. He was a former president of the Society of Surgical Oncologists.

Educated at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell Medical College, McKenna served in the Navy in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

He taught at USC for more than 35 years and wrote portions or all of several textbooks, including "Fundamentals of Surgical Oncology and Breast Cancer: Diagnosis and Treatment" and "Work and Illness: The Cancer Patient."

As a surgeon in several Southern California hospitals, he worked to improve the survival rate and life span of cancer patients.

McKenna is survived by his wife of 53 years, Madelyn; four grown children: Robert, Brian, Kathryn and Kevin; and nine grandchildren.

Services will be private. Memorial donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.

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