Blog Detail

Science Behind the fight against cancer


Science of Oncology - :The Beginning. 

Cancer is a dreaded disease worldwide and begs a cure. While we are in the process of understanding and finding new therapies, the study of how this science has evolved, is a fascinating study in itself.

In  1775 , the first breakthrough was made when Sir Percival Pott noted that chimney-sweeping was associated with squamous cell carcinoma of the scrotum. The chimney soot was carcinogenic and this was the first demonstrated environmental link associated with cancer.

In 1863, , the cellular origins of cancer were discovered by Sir Rudolf Virchow. Virchow  suggested that cancers arise from the activation of dormant cells  present in mature tissue probably by severe  irritation in the tissues.  

He discovered increases in white cells in some patients and coined the term "leukemia" for describing this disorder - a term which is still used for describing blood cancers.

TIn 1882, Sir William Halstedt, an American surgeon, performed the first radical mastectomy to treat breast cancer. This surgical procedure remained  the standard operation for breast cancer until the latter half of the 20th century.

 In 1886 , a Brazilian ophthalmologist Hilário de Gouvêa provided the first documented evidence regarding hereditary basis of cancer. He reported that  2 out of 7 children born to a father who was successfully treated for childhood retinoblastoma, a malignant tumor of the eye, also developed the disease. The case suggested an inherited factor that "lived" in the genes and caused cancer.

The discovery of the X-ray in 1895 by  Wilhelm Roentgen  paved  the way for imaging and treatment of various tumors. The first X-ray picture is an image of one of his wife's hands.

 1898: Radium & Polonium

In 1898, Marie and Pierre Curie discovered  the radioactive elements radium and polonium. Within a few years, the use of radium in cancer treatment began.

 In 1902, a German scientist, Theodor Boveri proposed that  cancerous tumors arise from single cells that have experienced chromosome damage, causing the cells to divide uncontrollably. This damage was caused by  radiation, physical or chemical insults or by microscopic pathogens. In  1903 ,the first use of radiation therapy to cure cancer began. S.W. Goldberg and Efim London  used radium to treat 2 patients with basal cell carcinoma of the skin.

In 1909, Paul Ehrlich proposes that the immune system usually suppresses tumor formation, a concept that becomes known as the ""immune surveillance"" hypothesis. Peyton Rous was involved in the discovery of the role of viruses in the transmission of certain types of cancer and was awarded the Nobel Prize. In 1911, he observed  that a malignant tumor (specifically, a sarcoma) growing on a domestic chicken could be transferred to another fowl simply by exposing the healthy bird to a cell-free filtrate.This finding, that cancer could be transmitted by a virus ( Rous sarcoma virus), was widely discredited  at that time.

In 1915,  Yamagiwa and  Ichakawa induced cancer in rabbits by applying coal tar to their skin. This provided experimental proof that  chemicals can cause cancer.

In 1928 , George Papanicolaou discovers that cervical cancer can be detected under microscope using the PAP smear and paved the way for cancer screening saving millions of lives.

 In 1932, P David H. Patey developed   modified radical mastectomy - which till today is the standard surgical treatment for breast cancer.

In 1937 , Sir Geoffrey Keynes described the treatment of breast cancer with breast-sparing surgery followed by radiation therapy which involved inserting long needles containing radium throughout the affected organ.

 In 1941, Charles Huggins  discovered  that removing the testicles to lower testosterone production or administering estrogens causes prostate tumors to regress. Hormonal therapy—continues to be a mainstay of prostate cancer treatment even today.

 A  German air raid in Bari, Italy led to the exposure of more than 1000 people to a  cargo composed of mustard gas bombs. Autopsies of the victims suggested that profound lymphoid and myeloid suppression had occurred after exposure. In his report, Dr. Alexander theorized that since mustard gas all but ceased the division of certain types of somatic cells whose nature was to divide fast, it could also potentially be put to use in helping to suppress the division of certain types of cancerous cells.

Goodman and Gilman along with Gustaf Lindskog used this drug : Nitrogen mustard  in the treatment of Non hodgkins lyphoma and obtained dramatic results. This marked the beginning of a new era of chemo- therapy in the treatment of cancer and ushered in the modern age as we know today.

These advances  are the result of painstaking research over centuries and decades by selfless scientists who sacrificed everything for the cause of science so that cancer could be conquered.