Peter Kerley

Last revised by Daniel J Bell on 2 Aug 2021

Sir Peter “PK” Kerley (1900-1979) was a globally-renowned cardiothoracic radiologist who is primarily remembered now for his Kerley lines but in his lifetime was famed for his uncanny imaging diagnostic abilities, co-editing the famous 'A Text-book of X-Ray Diagnosis by British Authors', and co-founding the Faculty of Radiologists.

Peter James Kerley was born in Dundalk in Ireland on 27 October 1900 3. He was one of 14 siblings and the son of a grocer. 

In 1923 he qualified in medicine from University College in Dublin, with MB ChB BAO 5. The following year he traveled to Vienna to pursue training in otorhinolaryngology. However he quickly became enamoured with radiology, in particular that of the heart and chest. He returned to the UK and passed the Diploma in Medical Radiology and Electrology (DMRE), at the University of Cambridge in 1925. Thereafter he became a consulting radiologist to the Westminster Hospital (now part of the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital), in London, UK and Royal Chest Hospital.

He earned his MD from University College in Dublin in 1932.

He wed Olivia MaeNamee in 1929, with whom they had two daughters, who both went on to become doctors themselves.

In 1933 S Cochrane Shanks invited Kerley, along with Edward W Twining to write and edit a new radiology textbook, 'A Text-book of X-Ray Diagnosis by British Authors'. The first edition was published in 1938 and it quickly became the go-to reference book for generations of radiologists around the world. In later editions it eventually extended to six volumes, with the final fourth edition appearing in 1970, with the final sixth volume published in 1974. Kerley was primarily responsible for the chapters on thoracic radiology.

Ironically, in view of his many other achievements, Peter Kerley is now most famous for his eponymous lines. He published his first thoughts about this subject in 1933 in an article on cardiac disease:

"the shadows of perivascular lymphatics persist as fine, sharp lines, most marked at the bases and near the hila" 6

He returned to the subject in the second edition of his "A Text-book of X-Ray Diagnosis" in 1950, expanding on the subject and terming the lines A, B, C and D.

In 1939 he was a co-founding member of the Faculty of Radiologists. In 1949 he assumed the mantle of Editor of the Journal of the Faculty of Radiologists, although he was only editor for three years. He was elected as President of the Faculty in 1952 (a three-year term). When it later became the Royal College of Radiologists, he was awarded its prestigious Gold Medal.

In the second world war he was a Major in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was awarded a Membership (without examination) of the Royal College of Physicians in 1944, followed two years later by the Fellowship 4.

In 1952 Kerley was invited to be the consulting radiologist to King George VI when he was diagnosed with bronchogenic carcinoma, from which the monarch later died. Following from this he was made a Commander of the Victorian Order (CVO) in 1952 and a Knight Commander of the Victorian Order (KCVO) in 1972.

  • Roentgen Award of the Toronto Radiological Society 1944 4
  • Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (Honorary) 1946
  • Editor of the Journal of the Faculty of Radiologists 1949-1952 5
  • Commander of the British Empire (CBE) 1951
  • Commander of the Victorian Order (CVO) 1952
  • President of the Faculty of Radiologists 1952-1955
  • Knight Commander of the Victorian Order (KCVO) 1972
  • Gold Medal of the Royal College of Radiologists 1976
  • Honorary Fellow of the American College of Radiology
  • Honorary Fellow of the Radiological Society of Chicago
  • Honorary Fellow of the Australasian College of Radiology
  • Honorary Fellow of the Faculty of Radiologists of Ireland

He died at the age of 78 years from a myocardial infarction on 15 March 1979 whilst still working as a Consultant Radiologist at the Westminster Hospital and National Heart Hospital, both in London, UK. 

  • co-founder of the Faculty of Radiologists in the UK (forerunner to the Royal College of Radiologists)
  • Kerley lines

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Cases and figures

  • Figure 1: A Text-book of X-Ray Diagnosis by British Authors (photo)
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