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The Oldest Descriptions Of Cancer And Where We Stand Today

November 19, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Human beings have had cancer throughout recorded history. So it is no surprise that from the dawn of time, people have written about cancer. Some of the earliest evidence of cancer has been found in fossilized bone tumors, human mummies in ancient Egypt, and in ancient manuscripts. Bone remains of mummies have revealed growths suggestive of the bone cancer, osteosarcoma. Bony skull destruction as seen in cancer of the head and neck have been found, as well. The Edwin Smith “Papyrus,” is a copy of part of an ancient Egyptian textbook on trauma surgery discovered in Egypt dating back to about 1600 B.C. Although at that time, it was not referred to as “cancer,” it describes 8 cases of tumors or ulcers of the breast that were treated by cauterization, with a tool called the fire drill. The writing says about the disease, “There is no treatment.”

Origin Of The Word Cancer

The origin of the word cancer is credited to the Greek physician Hippocrates, considered the “Father of Medicine.” Hippocrates used the terms carcinos and carcinoma to describe non ulcer forming and ulcer forming tumors. In Greek, these words refer to a crab, most likely used to describe the disease because the finger like spreading projections from a cancer called to mind the shape of a crab. The Roman physician, Celsus later translated the Greek term into cancer, the Latin word for crab. Galen, another Roman physician, used the word oncos, the Greek word for swelling, to describe tumors. Although the crab analogy of Hippocrates and Celsus is still used to describe malignant tumors, Galen’s term is now used as a part of the name for cancer specialists — oncologists.

Renaissance Period

During the Renaissance, scientists in Italy developed a greater understanding of the human body. Scientists like Galileo and Newton began to use the scientific method, which later was used to study disease. Autopsies provided an understanding of the circulation of blood through the heart and body that had until then been a mystery. In 1761, Giovanni Morgagni of Padua was the first to do something that has become routine today: he did autopsies to relate the patient’s illness to the pathologic findings after death. This laid the foundation for scientific oncology, the study of cancer.


Breast Cancer Awareness by ~saralyssan on deviantART

19th Century

The 19th century saw the birth of scientific oncology with use of the modern microscope in studying diseased tissues. Rudolf Virchow, often called the founder of cellular pathology provided the scientific basis for the modern pathologic study of cancer. Morgagni linked autopsy findings seen with the unaided eye with the clinical course of illness, so Virchow correlated the microscopic pathology. This method allowed a better understanding of the damage cancer had done, but also laid the foundation for the development of cancer surgery. Body tissues removed by the surgeon could now be examined and a precise diagnosis made. The pathologist could also tell the surgeon whether the operation had completely removed the cancer.

Theories On The Causes Of Cancer

Since ancient times, physicians have puzzled over the causes of cancer. The Egyptians blamed cancers on the gods. One theory was that the human body was made up of 4 types of body fluids. They believed that if the fluids were not in balance, it resulted in cancer. The lymph theory contended that acidity and alkalinity lymph fluids passed through blood caused cancer. In the 1800’s, German pathologist, Johannes Muller demonstrated that cancer is made up of cells and not fluid. His student, Rudolph Virchow determined that all cells, including cancer cells are derived from other cells. Virchow proposed that chronic irritation was the cause of cancer, but he falsely believed that cancers “spread like a liquid.” Another German surgeon, Karl Thiersch, showed that cancers metastasize through the spread of malignant cells and not through some unidentified fluid.

In the 17th and 18th Centuries, some believed that cancer was contagious. In fact, the 1st cancer hospital in France was forced to move from the city because of the fear of the spread of cancer throughout the city. Although human cancer itself is not contagious, we now know that certain viruses, bacteria, and parasites can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer. Oddly enough, until the 1920’s, trauma was thought to cause some forms of cancer.

Modern Day

The American Cancer Society is the “nationwide community based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering from the disease, through research, education, advocacy and service.” The ACS has set aggressive challenge goals to dramatically decrease cancer incidence and mortality rates by 2015 while increasing the quality of life for all cancer survivors. Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing Facilities help seniors cope with the conditions of cancer. They provide around the clock care to help them deal with the symptoms and conditions caused by cancer. Many seniors go on to survive cancer and lead active lifestyles within their communities. Hospice Careorganizations help those who are in the last stages of cancer. They help ease their pain and keep them as comfortable as possible towards the end of their life.

800Seniors.com is a leading referral system in the Elderly Healthcare industry. We are located on 5400 Atlantis Court, Moorpark, California 93021. 800Seniors.com provides the perfect match between seniors searching for health care provisions such as Home Care, Home Health, Skilled Nursing, Hospice Care, Medical Supplies, as well as a variety of Assisted Living San Antonio and Care Homes nationwide. Take the confusion and hassle out of the search. For more information call 1-800-768-8221, visit http://800seniors.com or fax us your details at (805)517-1623.

About The Author: Gloria Ha’o Schneider is an expert in senior citizen and baby boomer issues. Her topics revolve around Senior Living and Healthcare to provide the latest information to this demographic as well as their families and loved ones.

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