Thomas Wakley founded The Lancet and served as its first editor. He originally intended it to serve as a forum in which physicians could report on hospital lectures given in and around London as well as on important medical cases of the day.
The Lancet has played a key role in English medical and hospital reform movements. It has also played a critical role in communicating medical news and information. For example, the first reports of babies with birth defects due to thalidomide were in The Lancet as were most of the first reports of humans discovered with chromosome abnormalities.
The Lancet is multispecialty in its breadth and is now quite international in its scope. It is in essentially the same league as The New England Journal of Medicine as a prominent general international medical journal.
Before articles appear in The Lancet, they are peer-reviewed. Some articles are posted as "eprints" on The Lancet Interactive web site. The Lancet Neurology, a monthly, was launched in June 2000, followed by The Lancet Oncology in September 2000.
The Lancet is named for the surgical lancet: a short wide knife with a double-edged blade commonly used to make punctures and small incisions.