Cancer is a terrible disease, taking the lives of millions and millions of people throughout history. The name cancer comes from the Latin for crab, describing the projections of cancerous tissue from a tumour. Despite cancer’s long existence throughout humanity, not much was known about it until relatively recently, and there is still much left to discover.
The first mention of this disease is in an Egyptian papyrus in 3000BC, and the most chilling parts of the description are the sombre recorded words, ‘There is no treatment.’ As time passed on, the ancients tried all sorts of treatments to cure cancer that would seem fanciful to us today. Time continued passing until the 1880s when William Halsted discovered that surgery to remove the tumour could sometimes cure the disease. Surgical procedures, and later radiotherapy was continued to be used to treat cancer with varying successes, while physicians kept searching for other remedies. The first successful chemotherapy drug was mustine, derived from a poisonous gas used during World War I in 1949.
Modern chemotherapy is moving away from relying only on such drugs, to focusing on drugs that target cancer cells specifically, aiming to block them replicating and spreading. Preventative medicine also experienced success as a vaccine was successfully developed to prevent cervical cancer in 2006. Currently, research is still ongoing into the prevention and cure of cancers, resulting in the discovery of over 100 new carcinogenic substances. However, there is always more to be discovered in future.