Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world. 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with it all over the world. Due to its common nature, it’s also the most studied in the world. Due to the amount of resources and research spent on breast cancer, it has also helped in a lot of scientific breakthroughs in other types of cancer.

The conventional treatments that we know today have evolved from a long history of earlier treatments and milestones. TABIIB has listed out a few major milestones in breast cancer research that have shaped medical history till date.

Early History

Humans have known about disorders of the different body parts for a very long time. They may not have understood the causes or the cures for it, but there has been documentation describing various types of ailments that we still suffer from.

The earliest record of breast cancer that was found dates back to 1600 BC. The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus describes cases of breast cancer and ulcers in some detail.

Many physicians experimented with surgical tools to remove tumours and ulcers that were found externally in 548 AD. The cases presented to them were usually of older women with more prominent tumours – which led them to associate breast cancer with old age. This theory has been debunked, since.

During the medieval ages, scientific research stalled in the Western world as religion gained a stronger foothold in the public sphere. Surgeries were thought to be cruel and barbaric and so none were performed. In the Middle East, physicians and medical scholars were in the process of reviving the ancient Greek surgical practices.

The Renaissance was a period of enlightenment and breakthroughs as more scientists began exploring the physical world and the human body. It was during this time that the Scottish doctor John Hunter identified lymph nodes as the cause of breast cancer.

In 1700, the French surgeon Jean Louis Petit successfully removed lymph nodes and underlying muscle tissue.

Scientific Breast Cancer Research Milestones

The early history with all its scientific failures and pitfalls is the foundation of the current success in identifying and curing breast cancer. Here are a few milestones that made the current achievement possible. 

1882
William Stewart Halsted performed the first mastectomy and defined the process of the surgery.

1895
Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovers X-rays which become a primary feature of the detection and diagnosis process.

1926
Janet Lane-Claypon conducts the first breast cancer clinical study and trial.

-1941
Charles Huggins demonstrates that development of breast cancer cells is hormone dependent.

-1945
Development of modern chemotherapy processes happened after the World War. A report published reported that chemotherapy can cause tumour regression and still remains a vital part of modern treatment.

-1957
Alick Isaacs and Jean Lindenmann discover interferon. It is used today to treat kidney cancer, melanoma, and bladder cancer.


-1975
There was a lot of research into DNA sequencing at this point in the scientific community. This technology made it possible to identify mutated genes and DNA abnormalities that cause cancer.

-1976
A pair of scientists – Michael Bishop and Harold Varmus – discover oncogenes. These genes are responsible for cell growth and division and can, under certain circumstances, mutate a normal cell into a malignant one.

1988
Development of intensity-modulated radiation therapy. The control over the intensity of the treatment also led to fewer side-effects and risks.

1990
Susan Love publishes The Breast Book which becomes a source of information and knowledge for the women dealing with breast cancer.

1996
FDA approves anastrozole as a treatment for breast cancer.

Modern Breast Cancer Treatment

Earlier the treatment used to be focussed on making sure that the cancer doesn’t spread to other parts of the body. Nowadays, it’s becoming more personalized as more research comes to light. Doctors now prescribe a plan that suits the woman based on her medical history and needs.

Doctors can now isolate information regarding cells and the genes active in it to predict how different people will respond to treatment. This helps them create tailored treatments that are more effective.

Early detection is the best way forward when it comes to reducing risks. You can consult a doctor on TABIIB to book an early screening test or a general consultation. You can also consult a doctor virtually for general health queries.

I am a writer, covering the sprawling expanse of healthcare, among many other things that I love writing on. I write on healthcare because I want to do my part in informing people about the health industry, When I am not blogging about research and medicine, I enjoy reading, playing squash and backpacking around the world.