WJMC - West Jefferson Medical Center

WJMC - West Jefferson Medical Center

Breast Cancer: From The Ancient Egyptians To Early Detection

WJMC - History of Breast Cancer Treamtent in New Orleans 2014


Breast cancer diagnosis and treatment has come a long way over the last 3,500 years. Take a look back on the history of breast cancer, the bizarre theories as to the cause, and the earliest approaches to breast cancer treatment, in order to shed light on what the future holds.

Ancient Times

  • 1600 B.C. - The disease is first noted in the Edwin Smith Papyrus. Egyptians describe “incurable” tumors in the breast.
  • 460 B.C. - The father of Western medicine, Hippocrates, determines that the disease is humoral, meaning: the disease is related to disordered bodily fluids.
  • A.D. 200 - Galen describes the cancer as well, but goes a step further - determining that some tumors are more dangerous than others.
    • Suggested treatment: opium, castor oil, licorice, sulphur, and salves.

17th & 18th Century

  • 1713 - Bernardino Ramazzini says breast cancer develops in nuns due to lack of sexual activity. He theorizes that, without regular sexual activity, reproductive organs decay and develop cancers
    • No sex
  • Friedrich Hoffman of Prussia hypothesizes that “vigorous sex” causes lymphatic blockage and leads to breast cancer in women
    • Too much sex
  • Giovanni Morgagni of Italy
    • Curdled milk
  • Johannes de Gorter
    • Pus-filled inflammations in the breast
  • Claude-Nicolas Le Cat from Rouen
    • Depressive mental disorders
  • Lorenz Heister
    • Childlessness
  • 1757 - Henri Le Dran of France - First to suggest removal of the tumor
    • Also removes infected lymph nodes in the armpits
  • Claude-Nicolas Le Cat - Surgery is the only way to treat this cancer
    • These beliefs were held into the 20th century and led to development of the radical mastectomy and extensive removal of the breast

19th & 20th Century

  • 1882 - William Halsted develops radical breast surgery, the gold standard for the next 100 years
    • Radical Breast Surgery - Removal of the breast, chest muscle, lymph nodes, and axilla
  • Many women left disfigured by this procedure, many chose alternative treatments even though radical breast surgery was far more successful than any other treatment at the time
  • 1923 - Janet Lane-Claypon completes first large-scale study on women with breast cancer and discovers a variety of risk factors that are still valid with todays research
  • 1955 - George Crile suggests cancer affects the whole body, not just a single site
  • 1960’s - Mammography developed for early detection
  • 1976 - Bernard Fisher uses simpler breast surgery in combination with radiation and chemotherapy - Results are just as effective as radical mastectomy
  • 1990’s - Scientists isolate breast cancer causing genes: BRCA1, BRCA2, and ATM
  • 1990’s - Women become active in breast cancer awareness
  • 1990’s - The pink ribbon becomes the symbol for the revolution against breast cancer
  • 1995 - Less than 1 in 10 women with breast cancer receive a mastectomy

Breast Cancer Treatment Now

  • 2011 - FDA approval on 3D Mammography technology - Now available in 46 states
  • 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer
  • 1 in 1,000 men will develop breast cancer
  • In the U.S., breast cancer is the second most deadly cancer for women (1st is lung cancer)
  • Breast cancer is the second most frequently diagnosed cancer among U.S. women (1st is skin cancer)
  • 85% of breast cancers occur in women with no family history of breast cancer
  • Genetic mutations that happen during the aging process can lead to breast cancer. So, it’s not just hereditary
  • In 2014, we expect
    • 232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer among U.S. women (Including new cases among survivors, but not recurrence of pre-existing cancers)
    • 40,000-breast cancer related deaths in the U.S

The Future of Breast Cancer Treatment

Looking at how far we’ve come in the last few decades, there is no telling where the future of breast cancer treatment is headed. Earlier detection will lead to more targeted and aggressive treatment. As medicine progresses in hospitals around the world, more women survive and the fight against breast cancer grows stronger!




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