Cancer is one of the oldest recognized diseases in human history, with evidence dating back to the earliest civilizations. This is evident in the form of fossilized bone tumors, ancient Egyptian mummies, and manuscripts. The first recorded description of cancer was found in Egypt, in the Edwin Smith Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian textbook on trauma surgery, which was written around 3000 BC. This writing described 8 cases of breast tumors or ulcers that were treated through cauterization using a fire drill and stated that “there was no cure for the disease”. The word “cancer” originated from the Greek word “Karakinos,” which means crab, and was used by ancient Greek physician Hippocrates to describe tumors due to their finger-like projections resembling a crab’s legs. The term was later adopted by the Romans and has since been used to describe the disease.
Cancer in the 16th to 18th Centuries was considered the death sentence:
During the 16th to 18th centuries, medical knowledge of cancer was limited, and treatments were mostly ineffective and painful (e.g., surgery without anesthesia). Cancer was not yet well understood and was not often recorded as a separate cause of death and so there is no exact record of the number of people affected or died due to cancer. Due to the lack of scientific knowledge, Folk remedies and superstitions were used but were largely ineffective. Cancer was often considered a death sentence and was feared and misunderstood. The Discovery of Autopsies by Giovanni Morgagni (1761) led to scientific oncology. Later, Scottish surgeon John Hunter (1728-1793) suggested some cancers could be cured by surgery and advocated for deciding on surgery based on the mobility of the tumor.
Cancer in the 19th century: Discovery of anesthesia leads to successful surgeries:
The discovery of anesthesia in the early 19th century allowed for more successful surgeries, including the development of the radical mastectomy. In addition, the concept of pathological anatomy was developed by Rudolf Virchow, leading to a better understanding of cancer and its causes. He also contributes to the advances of microscopy which allowed for the study of cancer cells and tissues, which helped further the understanding of the disease. Body tissues removed by the surgeon could now be examined and a precise diagnosis could be made. The pathologist could also tell the surgeon whether the operation had completely removed cancer. Despite these advances, the overall survival rate for people with cancer was still low, as chemotherapy and radiation therapy were not yet available. Nevertheless, the 19th century was an important time in the history of cancer treatment, as it laid the foundation for the development of more effective treatments in the future.
Cancer in the 20th century: Advancement in cancer treatment and research:
The 20th century marked significant advancements in the field of cancer research and treatment. The discovery of X-rays and the realization of their therapeutic potential for cancer treatment led to the development of radiotherapy. The 1940s saw the use of the first chemotherapy drug, mustard gas, marking the beginning of a new era in cancer treatment. Advances in surgical techniques and tools made cancer surgery safer and more effective. The development of non-invasive methods for cancer detection such as the Pap smear test and mammography revolutionized cancer screening. In the latter part of the century, great strides were made in understanding the causes of cancer, including the link between viruses (HPV and hepatitis B and C) and cancer, and the link between smoking and lung cancer. The concept of using the immune system to fight cancer was also developed, leading to the development of immunotherapy, which has become a major component of cancer treatment.
Cancer in the 21st century: Implementation of innovative technology and future hope:
In the 21st century, cancer treatment has progressed with the implementation of innovative technology and research findings. In the last decade, cancer treatment has made significant strides in improving patient outcomes and quality of life. One major advancement has been the development of targeted therapies, which are drugs that specifically target the genetic mutations that drive the growth of certain types of cancer. These therapies are often more effective and have fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy drugs.
Immunotherapy is another promising area of cancer treatment that has seen significant progress in recent years. This type of therapy harnesses the power of the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer cells. Drugs such as checkpoint inhibitors, CAR-T cell therapy, and T cell receptor therapies are used to target specific molecules in cancer cells, leading to an immune response that attacks and destroys the cancer cells.
One type of immunotherapy, called checkpoint inhibitors, blocks certain proteins in cancer cells that help them evade the immune system. These drugs have been approved for use in several types of cancer, including melanoma, lung cancer, and bladder cancer, and have been shown to be highly effective in some patients.
Another area of progress in cancer treatment has been in the field of personalized medicine. By analyzing the genetic makeup of a patient’s cancer, doctors can identify specific mutations that are driving the growth of the tumor and choose the most effective treatment for that individual. This approach is known as precision medicine.
Additionally, Radiotherapy has seen a lot of advancements in the last decade. For example, image-guided radiotherapy (IGRT) is a type of radiotherapy that uses imaging scans to precisely target cancerous cells while minimizing exposure to healthy tissue. This results in more effective treatment and fewer side effects.
In addition to these specific advancements, there has also been an increase in cancer research and clinical trials in recent years, which is resulting in a better understanding of the disease and the development of new treatments.
There has been an increased focus on patient-centered care, which considers the physical, emotional, and social needs of patients throughout the cancer journey. This has led to the development of multidisciplinary teams that work together to provide comprehensive care and support. This approach has been shown to improve the overall experience of cancer care for patients and their families.
Finally, cancer research has been a global effort, with many countries and organizations working together to improve cancer treatments. The collaboration between scientists, doctors, and healthcare professionals has led to the development of new treatments and has also improved the understanding of cancer, which is essential for further research.
Overall, the world has made significant strides in improving the treatment of cancer in recent years. However, there is still much work to be done, and ongoing research is crucial to continue to improve cancer care. With the help of new technologies and the collaboration of healthcare professionals around the world, we can hope for an even better future for those affected by this disease.