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History of Cancer

Explore History of Cancer 20th Century

20th Century

By 1900
Hundreds of materials, both man-made and natural, were recognized as causes of cancer (carcinogens).

1902
X-ray exposure led to skin cancer on the hand of a lab technician. Within a decade, many more physicians and scientists, unaware of the dangers of radiation, developed a variety of cancers.

1905
UNITED KINGDOM
Physicians at the Royal Ophthalmology Hospital reported the first case of “hereditary” retinal glioma, which presented in the child of a parent cured of the disease.

1907
USA
Epidemiological study found that meat-eating Germans, Irish, and Scandinavians living in Chicago had higher rates of cancer than did Italians and Chinese, who ate considerably less meat.

1910
AUSTRIA
First national cancer society founded: Austrian Cancer Society.

1911
FRANCE
Marie Curie was awarded a second Nobel Prize, this time in chemistry, in recognition of her work in radioactivity.

1900 – 1950
Radiotherapy— the use of radiation to kill cancer cells or stop them dividing— was developed as a treatment.

1911
USA
Peyton Rous (1879–1970) proved that viruses caused cancer in chickens, for which he was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize in 1966.

1913
USA
The American Cancer Society was founded as the American Society for the Control of Cancer (ASCC) by 15 physicians and business leaders in New York City. In 1945, the ASCC was renamed the American Cancer Society. It remains the world’s largest voluntary health organization.

1915
JAPAN
Cancer was induced in laboratory animals for the first time by a chemical, coal tar, applied to rabbits’ skin at Tokyo University. Soon many other substances were observed to be carcinogens, including benzene, hydrocarbons, aniline, asbestos, and tobacco.

1926
UNITED KINGDOM
Physician and epidemiologist Janet Lane-Claypon (1877–1967) published results from a study that demonstrated some of the major contemporary risk factors for breast cancer among women, including not breastfeeding, being childless, and older age at first pregnancy.

1928
GREECE
George Papanicolaou (1883–1962) identified malignant cells among the normal cast-off vaginal cells of women with cancer of the cervix, which led to the Pap smear test.

1930
GERMANY
Researchers in Cologne drew the first statistical connection between smoking and cancer.

1930s
PUERTO RICO
Dr. Cornelius Rhoads, a pathologist, allegedly injected his Puerto Rican subjects with cancer cells—13 people died.

1933
The Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) founded.

1933
SPAIN
First World Cancer Congress held in Madrid.

1930s – 1950s
Classification of breast cancer introduced, enabling the planning of more rational treatment tailored to the individual.

1934
UNITED KINGDOM
Drs. W. Burton Wood and S. R. Gloyne reported the first two cases of lung cancer linked to asbestos.

1937
USA
National Cancer Institute inaugurated.

1939
USA
Drs. Alton Ochsner and Michael DeBakey first reported the association of smoking and lung cancer.

1939 – 1945
During the Second World War, the US Army discovered that nitrogen mustard was effective in treating cancer of the lymph nodes (lymphoma). This was the birth of chemotherapy— the use of drugs to treat cancer.

1943 – 1945
DENMARK, UNITED KINGDOM
First national cancer registries established.

1947
CANADA
Dr. Norman Delarue compared 50 patients with lung cancer with 50 patients hospitalized with other diseases. He discovered that over 90% of the first group— but only half of the second— were smokers, and confidently predicted that by 1950 no one would be smoking.

1947
USA
Sidney Farber (1903–73), one of the founders of the specialty of pediatric pathology, used a derivative of folic acid, methotrexate, to inhibit acute leukemia in children.

1940s – 1950s
USA
Dr. Charles B. Huggins’ (1901–97) research on prostate cancer changed the way scientists regard the behavior of all cancer cells, and for the first time brought hope to the prospect of treating advanced cancers. He showed that cancer cells were not autonomous and self-perpetuating but were dependent on chemical signals such as hormones to grow and survive, and that depriving cancer cells of these signals could restore the health of patients with widespread metastases. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1966 (shared with Peyton Rous).

1950
USA
Gertrude Elion (1918–99) created a purine chemical, which she developed into 6-mercaptopurine, or 6-MP. It was rapidly approved for use in childhood leukemia. She received the Nobel Prize in 1988.

1950
USA
The link between smoking and lung cancer was confirmed. A landmark article from The Journal of the American Medical Association appeared on May 27th, 1950: “Tobacco smoking as a possible etiologic factor in bronchogenic carcinoma” by E.L. Wynder and Evarts Graham. The same issue featured a full-page ad for Chesterfields with the actress Gene Tierney and golfer Ben Hogan; the journal accepted tobacco ads until 1953.

1951
UNITED KINGDOM
Dr. Richard Doll and Prof. Austin Bradford Hill conducted the first large-scale study of the link between smoking and lung cancer.

1952
USA
Epidemiologists at the American Cancer Society launched the Hammond-Horn Study, a long-term follow-up study of 188,000 men designed to examine the association of cigarette smoking with death from cancer and other diseases.

1953
UNITED KINGDOM
James Watson and Francis Crick described the double helical structure of DNA, marking the beginning of the modern era of genetics.

1954
USA
First tobacco litigation against the cigarette companies, brought by a widow on behalf of her smoker husband, who died from cancer. The cigarette companies won.

1956
USA
Dr. Min Chiu Li (1919–1980) first demonstrated clinically that chemotherapy could result in the cure of a widely metastatic malignant disease.

1960
JAPAN
Group cancer screening for stomach cancer began with a mobile clinic in Tohoku region.

1960
USA
Dr. Min Chiu Li published another important and original finding: the use of multiple-agent combination chemotherapy for the treatment of metastatic cancers of the testis. Twenty years later, it was demonstrated that combination chemotherapy, combined with techniques for local control, had virtually eliminated deaths from testicular malignancy.

1963
JAPAN
Cancer research programs were established by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture.

1964
USA
Physician Irving J. Selikoff (1915–92) published the results from a study linking asbestos exposure to the development of mesothelioma.

1964
USA
First US Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health.

1965
FRANCE
WHO established the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), based in Lyon, France.

1966
International Association of Cancer Registries (IACR) founded.

1960s – 1970s
Trials in several countries demonstrated the effectiveness of mammography screening for breast cancer.

1970s
USA, ITALY
Bernard Fisher in the USA and Umberto Veronesi in Italy both launched long-term studies as to whether lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy was an alternative to radical mastectomy in early breast cancer. These studies concluded that total mastectomy offered no advantage over either lumpectomy or lumpectomy plus radiation therapy.

1971
USA
The National Cancer Act in President Nixon’s “War on Cancer” mandated financial support for cancer research, outlined intervention strategies, and, in 1973, established the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program, a network of population-based cancer registries.

1973
USA
Bone marrow transplantation first performed successfully on a dog in Seattle by Dr. E. Donnall Thomas (1920–2012). This led to human bone marrow transplantation, resulting in cures for leukemias and lymphomas. In 1990, Dr. Thomas won a Nobel Prize for his work.

1970s
Childhood leukemia became one of the first cancers that could be cured by a combination of drugs.

1970s
USA
Discovery of the first cancer gene (the oncogene, which in certain circumstances can transform a cell into a tumor cell).

1970s ONWARDS
WHO, UICC, and others promoted national cancer planning for nations to prioritize and focus their cancer control activities.

1981
JAPAN
Professor Takeshi Hirayama (1923–95) published the first report linking passive smoking and lung cancer in the non-smoking wives of men who smoked.

1981
ITALY
Dr. G. Bonnadona in Milan performed the first study of adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer using cyclophosphamide, methotrexate, and 5-fluorouracil, resulting in reduction of cancer relapse. Adjuvant chemotherapy is now standard treatment for lung, breast, colon, stomach, and ovary cancers.

1980s
USA
Kaposi’s sarcoma and T-cell lymphoma linked to AIDS.

1982
USA
Nobel Laureate Baruch S. Blumberg was instrumental in developing a reliable and safe vaccine against hepatitis B (which causes primary liver cancer).

1980s
AUSTRALIA
Barry Marshall and J. Robin Warren identified bacterium H. pylori, noting it caused duodenal and gastric ulcers and increased the risk of gastric cancer.

1980s
USA
Vincent DeVita developed a four-drug combination to significantly raise the cure rate of Hodgkin disease to 80%.

Mid-1980s
Human Genome Project was initiated to pinpoint location and function of estimated 50,000– 100,000 genes that make up the inherited set of “instructions” for functions and behavior of human beings.

1980s
WHO Program on Cancer Control established.

1988
First WHO World No Tobacco Day, subsequently an annual event.

1989
European Network of Cancer Registries (ENCR) established.

1989
USA
National Institutes of Health researchers performed the first approved gene therapy, inserting foreign genes to track tumor-killing cells in cancer patients. This project proved the safety of gene therapy.

1991
Evidence linking specific environmental carcinogens to telltale DNA damage emerged, e.g. sub radiation was found to produce change in tumor suppressor genes in skin cells, aflatoxin (a fungus poison) or hepatitis B virus to cause a mutation in the liver, and chemicals in cigarette smoke to switch on a gene that makes lung cells vulnerable to the chemicals’ cancer-causing properties.

1994
USA, CANADA, UNITED KINGDOM, FRANCE, JAPAN
Scientists collaborated and discovered BRCA1, the first known breast and ovarian cancer predisposing gene.

1994
USA
National Program of Cancer Registries (NPCR) established.

1995
Gene therapy, immune system modulation, and genetically engineered antibodies used to treat cancer.

1999
NETHERLANDS, USA
Jan Walboomers of the Free University of Amsterdam and Michele Manos of Johns Hopkins University provided evidence that the human papillomavirus (HPV) is present in 99.7% of all cases of cervical cancer.

1999
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded a five-year, $50 million grant to the Alliance for Cervical Cancer Prevention (ACCP), a group of five international organizations with a shared goal of working to prevent cervical cancer in developing countries.