Is cancer a modern day disease? According to Cancer Research UK cancer certainly is not a modern disease. It claims that plants can get cancer and that dinosaurs probably suffered from the disease – and that cancer has been around for thousands of years. An Egyptian papyrus written between 3000 and 1500 BC refers to tumours of the breast. Apparently, the name cancer comes from the ancient Greek word for crab as scientists at the time thought that clusters of cancer cells looked like the legs of a crab. Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine’ is credited with being the first to recognize the difference between benign and malignant tumours.
In 1775 Dr Percivall Pott, one of the first people to suggest a cause for one type of cancer noticed that many young boys employed as chimney sweeps developed cancer of the scrotum later in life; he suggested that something in the soot was causing cancer. The noys were spoken to and were encouraged to wash themselves properly. A century later Dr Pott’s observations were proven to be correct.
18th century – the first cancer hospital was founded in Reims, France – this was in the mistaken belief that cancer was an infectious disease.
1839 – the French gynaecologist, Recamier coined the word metastasis, meaning spread of cancer – for invasion of the bloodstream by cancer.
1953 – Francis Crick and James Watson unravelled the structure of DNA. Studies started on trying to understand the causes of cancer at a molecular level; since then new treatments were based on this knowledge.
According to Cancer Research UK the last fifty years have seen an explosion of knowledge in trying to understand this ‘most fundamental disease’ and that discoveries are occurring on an almost weekly basis. Go online to learn more on the latest advances in cancer research from Science Update blog.