The History of Cancer

The History of Cancer


Ancient Egyptians described the earliest record of Cancer, between the ages of 3000 BC to 1500BC. Theorists acknowledge the fact that cancer has probably been around for as long humans have been, however, the Ancient Egyptians where the first to record it. They described it on seven papyri. The two more famous ones, known as “Edwin Smith” and “George Ebers” hold descriptions that perfectly describe modern day cancer. They go into details about tumors and ulcers in the breasts.

Unfortunately, back in those days, common treatment was more religious then scientific, and contained compounds of barley, pig’s ear, animal parts, castor oil and various other materials. However, their observations lead them to diagnose tumors and recognize benign abnormal cells, and malignant tumors.

Scientists have managed to find (to-date) the oldest specimen of human cancer on the remains of a skull. The skull is believed to have belonged to a woman who lived during the Bronze Age (1900 – 1600BC). It is suggested she had head and neck cancer. Surprisingly, she is the only specimen found that dates back to this time period. A mummified skeleton shows signs of malignant melanoma, which is a type of skin cancer. The skeleton dates back to about 2400 years ago.

Louis Leakey [http://www.rare-cancer.org/history-of-cancer.html], so far, has found the oldest specimen of cancer on a body of a Homo Erectus or a Australopithecus. The body seems to have suffered from a tumor, possible of type Burkitts Lymphoma. The actual word “Cancer” comes from the Greek Physician, Hippocrates. He is well known to have investigated in the medicine, especially in cancer. Originally he named it after the word “Crab” in greek “Karkinos” as the blood vessels around the tumor, to him, looked like the claws of a crab.

It was only in the Renaissance Period, that cancer started getting clinical treatment. They still believed the theory that cancer was created from an excess amount of black bile. This carried on till the 16th century. It was only in the 17th century when Gaspare Aselli discovered the lymphatic system that the rumour came to an end. It was a French Physician, Claude Gendron, who recognized that cancer had to be surgically removed.

In the 18th Century, physicians, spurred on by Jean Astruc and chemist Bernard, started doing autopsies on cancer patients to find a better way of diagnosis and treatment. Surgery had to wait until Wells, in 1844, discovered anesthesia, which allowed the physicians to operate. The study of the cancer cells took on a turn for the better when Leeuwenhoek, in the late 17 century, created the microscope.

By the early 20th century, doctors where well on their way to understanding the dynamics of cancer and the cellular mechanisms related to the cell growth and division of it. However, some types of cancers have taken longer then others. The reason behind cervical cancer only becoming known in the 1970’s was due to the cells, which created it, papillomavirus (HPV) was only identified then. Today, modern scientist realize that it’s not the cell that should be the concern, but the DNA within the cells, which is a long way away from the diagnosis of the Ancient Egyptians.

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