LOS ANGELES -- Dr. Robert J. McKenna, a surgical oncologist who had served as president of the American Cancer Society,
died Jan. 13 in Newport Beach, Calif., of unspecified causes. He was 78.
During his year at the helm of the national cancer health agency in 1985, Dr. McKenna launched a cancer prevention study of 1.2 million volunteers to determine risk factors that cause cancer deaths.
He also formed an alliance with the American Heart Association and American Lung Association to seek federal restrictions on smoking and tobacco advertising.
Dr. 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 was also a former president of the Society of Surgical Oncologists.
Educated at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell Medical College, Dr. McKenna served in the Navy in the Pacific theater during World War II.
He taught at the University of Southern California 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."