History of Cancer
In the early 1800s, Scottish physician John Waldrop proposed that “glioma of the retina,” which typically appeared within the eyes of newborns and young children and was usually lethal, might be cured via early removal of affected organs.
Gynecologist Joseph Recamier described the invasion of the bloodstream by cancer cells, coining the term metastasis, which came to mean the distant spread of cancer from its primary site to other places in the body.
Pathologist Johannes Müller demonstrated that cancer is made up of cells and not lymph. His student, Rudolph Virchow (1821–1902), later proposed that chronic inflammation— the site of a wound that never heals— was the cause of cancer.
Domenico Antonio Rigoni-Stern undertook the first major statistical analysis of cancer incidence and mortality using 1760–1839 data from Verona. This showed that more women than men died from tumors, and that the most common female cancers were breast and uterine (each accounting for a third of total deaths). He found cancer death rates for both sexes were rising, and concluded that incidence of cancer increases with age, that cancer is found less in the country than in the city, and that unmarried people are more likely to contract the disease.
John Hughes Bennett, the Edinburgh physician, was the first to describe leukemia as an excessive proliferation of blood cells.
1851 – 1971
Decennial reports linked cancer death to occupation and social class.
Earlier invention of general anesthesia (chloroform, ether, nitrous oxide) became more wide- spread, making cancer surgery more acceptable.
First practical cigarette-making machine patented by James Bonsack. It could produce 120,000 cigarettes a day, each machine doing the work of 48 people. Production costs plummeted, and— with the invention of the safety match a few decades later— cigarette smoking began its explosive growth.
Hereditary basis for cancer first suggested after Professor Hilario de Gouvea of the Medical School in Rio de Janeiro reported a family with increased susceptibility to retinoblastoma.
Professor William Stewart Halsted at Johns Hopkins University developed the radical mastectomy for breast cancer, removing breast, underlying muscles, and lymph nodes under the arm.
Physicist Wilhelm Konrad Roentgen (1845–1923) discovered x-rays, used in the diagnosis of cancer. Within a few years, this led to the use of radiation for cancer treatment.
Walter B. Cannon (1871–1945) was still a college student when he fed bismuth and barium mixtures to geese, outlining their gullets on an x-ray plate (the forerunner of the barium meal examination).
Invention and use of the modern microscope, which later helped identify cancer cells.
Rudolph Virchow (1821–1902), “the founder of cellular pathology,” also determined that all cells, including cancer cells, are derived from other cells. He was the first to coin the term “leukemia” and believed that chronic inflammation was the cause of cancer.
Surgeon Karl Thiersch showed that cancers metastasize through the spread of malignant cells.
Surgeon Stephen Paget (1855–1926) first deduced that cancer cells spread to all organs of the body by the bloodstream, but only grow in the organ (“soil”) they find compatible. This laid the groundwork for the true understanding of metastasis.
Dr. Thomas Beatson discovered that the breasts of rabbits stopped producing milk after he re- moved the ovaries. This control of one organ over another led Beatson to test what would happen if the ovaries were removed in patients suffering from advanced breast cancer, and he found that oophorectomy often resulted in improvement. He thus discovered the stimulating effect of estrogen on breast tumors long before the hormone was discovered. This work provided a foundation for the modern use of hormones and analogs (e.g. tamoxifen, taxol) for treatment and prevention of breast cancer.
Lung cancer was extremely rare; now it is one of the most common cancers.