Fighting Cancer

Since 1500BC

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journey through the years

1500BC - 1799


The first documented instance of cancer is made in ancient Greece. It mentions how a specific case of breast cancer was treated with an instrument called ‘the fire drill’ leading to the conclusion that the breast tissue would have been cauterised.


Leonides of Alexandria performs surgery to remove breast cancer. He notices that breast cancer affects the appearance of the nipple and happens more in women than men. The operation mainly revolves around cutting out and cauterising as much tissue as possible.


John Hill finishes a paper in which he links the use of snuff tobacco to nasal cancer. It is the first time someone cites a commonly found substance as being linked to cancer.


Scottish doctor John Hunter has his papers purchased by the government. One in particular describes how the lymphatic system possibly plays a major role in how cancer occurs and grows.

1829 - 1881



Joseph Récamier releases his findings in to cancer research and points out that eating habits can play a part in whether someone gets cancer. He also coins the term ‘metatasis’, meaning the spread of cancer.


John Collins Warren

John Collins Warren performs what is regarded as the first proper cancer surgery. He carries out a surgery under general anaesthesia wherein a cancerous tumour is removed from the neck of a patient. He famously says ‘Gentlemen, this is no humbug’ during the procedure, highlighting the seriousness of the operation.


Rudolf Virchow

Rudolf Virchow publishes ‘omnis cellula e cellula’ (every cell stems from another cell). He makes the discovery that because each cell in the body is a division of another, cancer also occurs in the same way. It changes how cancer is viewed as it now becomes a disease based on cells.


Theodor Billroth

Theodor Billroth successfully carries out the excision of a cancerous blockage (known as a pylorus) from a patient’s stomach. It’s heralded as a large breakthrough in medicine and in a pioneering moment in modern surgery by helping the community understand that organs which were previously seen as being problem areas for surgery could be worked on.

1882 - 1898

  • Howling
  • Cougar


    William Halstead carries out two major breakthroughs in medicine over the decade. He introduces a procedure known as a ‘Halstead Mastectomy’ which becomes the norm for over 50 years. It is also referred to as a ‘Radical Mastectomy’ as the surgery involves having the entire breast tissue and tissue of the surrounding area completely removed. Halstead believed that cancer was a disease that would spread slowly across the body from its origin and by removing a large area, the chance of reoccurrence would be drastically reduced. In 1889, he also becomes the first doctor to get a company to manufacture surgical gloves after a nurse complains that work has skin problems after working with chemicals.

  • Lions


    David von Hansemann proposes that cancer is a genetic disease that occurs because cell division goes wrong. It becomes the cornerstone moment of modern cancer research.

  • Snowalker


    Wilhelm Röntgen gives a lecture after accidentally discovering X-Rays. News of the discovery spreads so fast that a student doctor in America, Emil Grubbe, is the first to use radiation as a cancer treatment. Doctors around the globe turn to radiotherapy as a form of treatment and Röntgen wins a Nobel Prize in 1901.

  • Howling


    The Curies discover radium and the possibility that it can be used to treat illness.

1903 - 1942

Georgios Papanikolaou


Brachytherapy is carried out for the first time with radium and declared a success. The operation involves implanting a small piece of radioactive material near to the tumour in the hope that it will diminish and wither away.


Greek pathologist Georgios Papanikolaou announces that he has discovered a means by which to see if a female has cancerous cells in her body by simply looking at a slide of vaginal fluid under a microscope. It becomes known simply as the ‘Pap smear’.

Jacob Furth


Antoine Lacassagne discovers that oestrogen can play a role in the development of breast cancer. The oestrogen receptor isn’t discovered until 1966, where the idea of oestrogen antagonism becomes a reality.


Jacob Furth proposes that cancer cells grow in their own fashion and as such cancer has its own stem cells that act independently of others, meaning that only some can cause growth. Cancer stem cells aren’t proven to be real though until 1994.

1954 - 1971


Abraham Cantarow and Karl Paschkis discover that cancerous liver cells are more prone to absorbing to Uracil. Their research leads to the creation of Fluorouracil, the first drug to be used exclusively for the treatment of colon cancer (the drug would later be used for liver and prostate cancer too).

Charles B Huggins


Charles B Huggins wins the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine after discovering that testosterone and oestrogen can be determining factors in the growth of prostate and breast cancer.


In America, the Surgeon General highlights the connection between smoking and health problems, especially lung cancer. It’s the first nail in the coffin for the smoking industry when smoking becomes labelled as an ‘epidemic’. This leads to what is known as the ‘War on Cancer’ starting in the U.S.


Raymond Damadian realises that cancerous tissue has a longer relaxation time than normal tissue and comes to the conclusion that if the body could be scanned, it would be possible to see which internal tissue is damaged. This leads to the starting mark for what would be the invention of the MRI machine. He creates a machine named ‘Indomitable’ in 1977, based off the world’s first patent for an MRI machine. It has the unmistakable look of the machine, the only difference being that patients sit upright instead of lying down. The first scan took roughly five hours to carry out. Now it takes less than five minutes.

1973 - 1999


Ralph M.Steinman coins the term ‘dendritic cells’. It won’t be another decade before scientists discover these cells and effectively create what becomes the template for cancer vaccines that help bolster the immune system.


Cisplatin is approved for use on cancer patients. The drug, made from a derivative of platinum, is used with other drugs to treat testicular cancer, but proves to be successful to in helping to treat other cancer types. This makes the use of ‘combination therapy’ a common treatment for many people.


A vaccine is developed which aims to prevent someone from getting Hepatitis B. Because of Hepatitis’ link with liver cancer, the vaccine is heralded as the first ‘cancer vaccine’.


Second-hand smoke is officially declared as a carcinogen in America. It begins the shift of public places banning smoking indoors.


Stem cell transportation is used for the first time to treat leukaemia and lymphoma. It proves to have a higher success rate than bone marrow transportations have, but worries are raised over the long term effects of this kind of treatment.


The idea of cancer profiling comes to the fore thanks to Tood Golub. He and his team show that profiling someone’s genes can help distinguish what type of cancer someone has. This proves to be invaluable for predicting the exact cancer someone might have.

2005 - Present


Leaders in Oncology Care (LOC) is founded at 95 Harley Street with the hopes of establishing a centre that provides the highest level of cancer care ever provided in the UK. The centre uses a new model described as ‘doctors in chambers’ in which a group of clinicians use their separate strengths equally to give an unrivalled level of care not seen before in the country. The cancer hospitals model becomes such a success that other medical professions start using it.



Cancer survival rates are increasing and treatments are becoming more and more advanced. As more people are made aware of the risks to look out for, and the level of research reaches an all-time high, it’s declared that cancer will more than likely become a chronic illness which will make it something people live with rather than die from.

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