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A Cancer Research Timeline

We will do a brief overview of the early history of cancer research. This information is excerpted from the Emory University 'Timeline of Cancer'. For more detail go to: Cancer Quest by Emory University.

BC: The earliest signs of cancer

  • 3000 BC:
    • The Edwin Smith Papyrus is the oldest written description of cancer known to exist. It describes 8 cases of breast tumors in Egypt that were treated by cauterization (heat).

  • 400 BC:
    • Hippocrates, known as "The Father of Medicine" was the first to use the word "carcinoma" to describe tumors; hence the term "cancer" was coined.

Early AD:

  • 1190:
    • Moses Maimonides who described surgical removal of tumors in his writings wrote about Early cancer treatment.

Late AD:

  • 1713:
    • Early Cancer Epidemiology - Razmazzini noticed the virtual absence of cervical cancer and high incidence of breast cancer among nuns. He concluded this must be due to their different lifestyle, namely sexual abstinence.

  • 1775:
    • Environmental Factors and Cancer -Tobacco and occupational risk factors were identified and written about.

  • 1829:
    • Metastasis First Recognized - J. Recmier recognized the spread of cancer and coined the term "metastasis". The Greeks used the term to mean to move from one place to another.

  • 1838:
    • Cancer is Made up of Cells - J. Muller, a German pathologist, wrote that cancer is made up of cells, thereby establishing pathological histology as an independent branch of science.

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  • 1889:
    • Seed and Soil Theory - S. Paget proposed that tumor cells (the seeds) have a specific affinity for certain organs (the soil) and metastasis only results if the seed and soil are compatible.

  • 1895:
    • W. Roentgen Discovers X-rays - This is still thought of as one of the greatest technological accomplishments in medicine. It made a huge impact on cancer detection and treatment.

Early 1900's:

  • 1910:
    • Viral Theory of Cancer - F. Rous injects healthy chickens with virus from chickens with sarcomas and documents the formation of sarcomas in infected chickens.

  • 1914:
    • Mutation Theory of Cancer - T. Boveri proposes the 'Somatic Mutation Theory of Cancer' (mutations that are not inherited).

  • 1939:
    • C. Huggins discovers hormones are necessary for the growth of certain cancers. This lays the groundwork for hormonal therapy.

  • 1946:
    • L. Goodman studied chemical warfare agents during WWII and reported the use of nitrogen mustards as the first chemotherapy agents used against Hodgkin's Disease, lymphosarcoma, and leukemia.

Late 1900's:

  • 1971:
    • Angiogenesis - J. Folkman proposes that angiogenesis (blood vessel growth) plays a major role in cancer development.

1971: Nixon declares the war on cancer

  • 1976+:
    • Oncogenes and Tumor Supressor Genes - The first oncogene, src, and the first tumor suppressor gene, RB, are discovered.

  • 1990:
    • The Human Genome Project began. At it's completion in 2003, ~25,000 genes were identified. This information may lead to new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent cancer.

  • 1995:
    • The first microarray chip is constructed. Currently, 'gene chips' are being investigated as tools for development of individualized treatment plans.

  • 1997:
    • The Cancer Genome Anatomy Project (CGAP), a multi-year project to assemble the first index of genes involved in cancer, is launched.

    • Cancer stem cells are first identified in acute myelogenous leukemia. They will later be identified in additional cancer types, including cancers that form solid tumors. Cancer stem cells are rare cells that have the ability to proliferate extensively and initiate cancer when injected into animals. Cancer stem cells in solid tumors are the only tumor cells that have the ability to initiate new tumors.

    • BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations to the tumor suppressor genes are linked to a 50 to 85 percent lifetime chance of developing breast cancer. Enables physicians to identify high-risk patients and offer preventive strategies such as more regular screening or prophylactic mastectomy.

    • The FDA approves Rituxan (rituximab), the first monoclonal antibody, to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

    • First overall downturn in cancer mortality is documented: overall cancer death rates fell 0.5% per year between 1991-1995.

  • 1998:
    • Trastuzumab (Herceptin), a monoclonal antibody that targets cancer cells that overproduce the protein HER2, is approved by the FDA for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer. HER2 is overproduced in the tumors of approximately 25 percent to 30 percent of women with advanced disease.

    • FDA approval for HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer. HercepTest, a diagnostic kit to screen breast cancer patients for HER2 overexpression, is also approved; this is the first time the FDA requires a diagnostic lab test be made available with a drug to predict the likelihood of a response.

    • Tamoxifen is approved based on its ability to reduce the risk of breast cancer by half in high-risk women participating in the Breast Cancer Prevention Trial.

  • 1999:
    • Profiling cancer expression began to be used - Tailoring cancer therapy to specific tumour types maximizes efficacy while minimizing toxicity.

    • The Hybrid Capture II human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA test is approved by the FDA as a test that can be used in conjunction with the Pap smear in screening for cervical cancer.

  • 2000:
    • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) discovery - Researchers discover that the most common form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, is actually two distinct diseases, explaining why only 40 percent of patients with NHL can be cured by chemotherapy.

    • The da Vinci robotic surgery system becomes the first robotic system approved by the FDA for general laparoscopic surgery. Use of robot-assisted surgery was first documented in 1985 and is now used for prostatectomy to treat prostate cancer, hysterectomy to treat cervical and endometrial cancers, as well as surgery to treat bladder and kidney cancers.

  • 2001:
    • First Targeted Therapy - The drug imatinib mesylate (Gleevec) is shown to be effective against chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). Imatinib mesylate is the first anticancer drug developed specifically to target the molecular defect that causes a particular type of cancer.

    • The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) is established to coordinate Federal nanotechnology research and development. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. A sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick - veeeeery small.

  • 2002
    • NCI launches the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) to determine whether spiral computed tomography is better than single-view chest x-ray in reducing deaths among current and former heavy smokers.

    • Tobacco smoke update - The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) publishes a monograph on tobacco smoke and involuntary smoking (second-hand smoke) that classifies second-hand smoke as carcinogenic to humans.

  • 2003:
    • Aspirin and colon cancer - Two randomized controlled trials show that taking aspirin daily for as little as three years reduces the development of colorectal polyps by 19 percent to 35 percent in individuals at high risk for colorectal cancer.

    • A new class of targeted agents approved - The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the drug bortezomib (Velcade) for the treatment of multiple myeloma. Bortezomib represents a new class of targeted agents that inhibit proteasomes, structures inside cells that degrade proteins.

  • 2004:
    • Letrozole is approved by the FDA for the adjuvant treatment of early-stage breast cancer after five years of tamoxifen therapy.

    • Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study - Data from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study show that women who take estrogen in combination with the hormone progestin have a greater risk of developing breast cancer than women who take estrogen alone and that estrogen-alone hormone replacement therapy has no overall benefit in disease prevention, specifically on the risks of breast and colorectal cancer.

    • Avastin update - The monoclonal antibody bevacizumab (Avastin) is approved by the FDA for use with other drugs in the treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer. Bevacizumab targets a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor, which stimulates the growth of new blood vessels to tumors (a process called tumor angiogenesis).

    • Erbitux - The monoclonal antibody cetuximab (Erbitux) is approved by the FDA for the treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer. Cetuximab targets a protein called epidermal growth factor receptor, which is overexpressed in some cancers.

  • 2005:
    • Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) Project - The NCI and the National Human Genome Research Institute announce the launch of The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) Project, which, in its initial phase, will systematically explore the genomic changes in lung, brain (glioblastoma), and ovarian cancer.

    • Oncotype DX - Data presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium show Oncotype DX, a 21-gene profiling test, successfully predicts whether chemotherapy is needed based on a recurrence risk score.

    • Abraxane - The FDA approves an albumin-stabilized nanoparticle formulation of paclitaxel (Abraxane) for use in the treatment of metastatic or recurrent breast cancer.

  • 2006:
    • Gardasil - The FDA approves the vaccine Gardasil, which protects against persistent infection by the two types of HPV that cause approximately 70 percent of cervical cancers worldwide. NCI scientists developed the underlying technology used to make this vaccine.

    • Second-hand smoke - The U.S. Surgeon General releases a report on the harmful health consequences of involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke (second-hand smoke).

    • Trastuzamab - The FDA approves trastuzumab (Herceptin) for use with other drugs in the adjuvant treatment of women with early-stage, node-positive, HER2-overexpressing breast cancer.

    • TAILORx Trial begins - NCI launches the TAILORx trial to determine whether gene expression patterns in early-stage breast cancer can distinguish between women who are at high risk of cancer recurrence and, therefore, most likely benefit from adjuvant chemotherapy and women who have a low risk of recurrence and, thus, can be spared the toxic side effects of chemotherapy.

  • 2007:
    • Promyelocytic leukemia update - Results from a large phase III clinical trial show that adult patients with previously untreated acute promyelocytic leukemia who were treated with arsenic trioxide after standard chemotherapy had longer disease remissions and better overall survival than patients who received standard chemotherapy alone.

    • The FDA approves Nexavar (sorafenib) for primary liver cancer, making it the only drug approved for liver cancer. Nexavar's first approval came in 2005 for kidney cancer.

  • 2008:
    • Results from a large multicenter study show that the accuracy of computerized tomographic colonography (virtual colonoscopy) is similar to that of conventional, optical colonoscopy in detecting intermediate-size and large colorectal polyps, suggesting that the procedure could serve as an initial screening exam for colorectal cancer.

    • KRAS - Data presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting validates KRAS as the first molecular marker to determine targeted treatment in metastatic colorectal cancer. Studies show that patients with cancer expressing the wild-type (normal) gene respond better to Erbitux plus chemotherapy than patients with certain mutant forms of KRAS.



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