A time travel through cancer research

Senior Female Scientist Works with High Tech Equipment in a Modern Laboratory. Her Colleagues are Working Beside Her

Cancer was long considered incurable. Nevertheless, medicine tirelessly confronted, studied and treated cancer. Today, for many patients, there is therefore reasonable hope for an effective and tolerable therapy. Here’s to a life worth living with a cancer diagnosis – and hope for a cure.

Cancer research and cancer treatments in ancient times

The ancient Chinese discovered cancer as early as 3.000 before Christ documented, both occurrences, as well as treatments. Chinese medicine once blamed regulative disturbances in the organism for cancer. She tried to treat it with plant power and acupuncture. From the ancient Indian teaching Ayurveda at 2.Cancer treatments with minerals and herbal drugs have been handed down from as far back as 000 B.C.

At that time, superficial tumors were burned out with red-hot iron. Hippocrates was the first to call malignant cancerous tumors "carcinoma. He attributed the cause of tumors to the segregation of bodily fluids and recommended detoxification and a way of life that avoids harmful influences on body and mind ("Diaita"). Where it seemed necessary in Hippocrates’ time, tumors were also removed with a knife.

On the trail of cancer

Since the 18. In the nineteenth century, the theory was that cancer was the result of long-lasting stimuli. With the outgoing 19. More cases of cancer were diagnosed in the twentieth century. The historian Daniel Kauz explains the growing visibility of cancer with the increasing expectation of life resulting from "better hygiene and the gradual retreat of infectious diseases".

A milestone in causal research was the discovery of the cell-changing nature of cancer in 1858 by Rudolf Virchow. Around 1920, cancer researchers created artificial cancer in animal experiments for the first time.

Surgical steel against cancer

In the last third of the 19th century. Thanks to advanced anesthesia and antisepsis, surgeons regularly cut out tumors from 1900 onwards. According to statistics, however, the outlook at that time was still quite bleak despite the cancer surgery: Three years after breast surgery, for example, 30 percent of the patients had died, and after six years only one in ten women was still alive.

Radiation against cancer

It was also by chance that X-rays were discovered to be an anti-cancer agent in animal experiments. The first therapies, however, brought patients severe side effects and sometimes nasty sequelae, such as X-ray carcinoma.

In its early days, radiation therapy was sometimes fatal: for the patient – and not infrequently also for the physicians treating him. It took until the 1930s for devices to come along that could dose the rays. In combination with surgical interventions, skin cancer was already being treated quite successfully at that time.

Chemistry against cancer

During the Second World War, experiments with chemical warfare agents identified – again by chance – substances that were able to inhibit the growth of cells. The discovery was initially concealed, however, and it was not until around 1950 that chemo spread from the USA to the rest of the world.

Today: combined, holistic use of therapies against cancer

For thousands of years, a diagnosis of cancer was tantamount to a death sentence; treatment was often dispensed with altogether. With the suitability of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy as cancer therapies, this changed. The three have developed rapidly in recent times and have produced numerous variants.

But not only that: today, they are successfully used in combination against cancer. The interaction of different medical disciplines in cancer treatment is due to the nature of the common enemy cancer, which can spread almost throughout the entire body.

In the meantime, medicine knows more than 200 types of cancer and is on the trail of their nature. More and more oncogenes, i.e. those that cause abnormal cell division and are thus responsible for the development of cancerous tumors, are being named. Likewise, more and more of their endogenous counterparts are being identified: the so-called antioncogenes (cancer-suppressor genes).

In other words, the genetic and chemical nature of cancer is gradually being uncovered, scientifically documented and discussed. Fortunately across national borders, which certainly also has to do with the digital revolution of our time. Since 2008, international scientists have been working together on the largest and most expensive project ever undertaken in cancer research: the Cancer Genome Project.

Modern cancer treatment is based on diagnostics which, thanks to high-performance technologies and also thanks to early detection programs for risk groups, now provide reliable results earlier than ever before and faster than ever before. The patient is thus hardly in the dark anymore. Today, the doctors in the cancer centers meet his well-founded worries and fears with their cumulative knowledge and expertise about cancer.

Cancer experts and, in many places, psycho-oncologists sit around a table (tumor board) with the patient and draw up a treatment plan on an equal footing, tailored to the specific cancer and practicable in everyday life, so that the patient loses as little quality of life as possible.

  • 1846: The introduction of general anesthesia opens the door to the modern era of cancer surgery
  • 1884: Verwendung der radikalen Mastektomie, um das Ruckfallrisiko von Brustkrebs zu minimieren.
  • 1903: First use of radiation therapy to treat cancer
  • 1943: Ruckgang der Todesfalle bei Gebarmutterhalskrebs, dank Einfuhrung des PAP-Tests
  • 1958: Groundbreaking progress for cancer treatment: "Combination chemotherapy
  • 1959: Thanks to studies, the causal relationship between cigarette smoking and lung cancer is established
  • 1974: First computed tomography (CT) scan on a human patient
  • 1991: Zum ersten Mal seit Beginn der Aufzeichnungen in den 1930er Jahren, beginnt die Krebssterblichkeitsrate zu sinken
  • 1998: New radiation therapy technology allows precise targeting of tumors near sensitive tissue
  • 2010: Studien zeigen, dass das jahrliche Screening mit niedrig dosierten Spiral-CTScans (LDCT) das Risiko fur ungenkrebs um 20% senkt
  • 2014: Die Anwendung von neuen Medikamenten in der CLL-Therapie, ermoglicht vielen Patienten neue Moglichkeiten der Behandlungen
  • 2015: New forms of immunotherapy to treat lung cancer

Therapies yesterday and today using the example of breast cancer and skin cancer

Take the example of breast cancer: until the 1970s, a breast suffering from cancer was usually amputated. Still, the chance of recovery was only a little over 50 percent. Three-quarters of breast cancer patients now undergo breast-conserving surgery; studies show that more than 65 percent are still alive today, 20 years after diagnosis.

Das Beispiel Schwarzer Hautkrebs (Malignes Melanom) zeigt, dass die zielgerichtete Behandlung genetisch mutierter Melanome die Lebenserwartung von Patienten mit Metastasen deutlich verbessert. Likewise for patients with light skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma). In the case of skin cancer, modern immunotherapies are also showing great success: they unmask tumors so that the body’s own defenses (immune system) can identify and attack the cancer cells.

Future with cancer means life, not death

It is already foreseeable that the growing knowledge of the genetics of cancer will change cancer therapy. Mit der Identifikation des genetischen Defekts, der den Krebs wachsen lasst, wird der Arzt in die Lage versetzt, seinem Patienten gezielt die Substanz zu verabreichen, die die Krebszellen angreift.

In the future, for example, agents may be able to turn off proteins that promote the division and spread of cancer cells, driving them to suicide and destroying cancer stem cells that cause recurrence and metastasis.

Holistic, interdisciplinary cancer treatment thus brings patients more than a sliver of hope: It brings them the chance of a cure. And for cancers that are incurable so far, it at least brings him the chance of a dignified and livable life with cancer. The fact that many cancer treatments today have noticeably fewer and milder side effects also contributes to this trend.

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