Did you know that the word cancer appeared between 460 and 370 BC, written by Hippocrates?
Cancerous diseases already existed 5,000 years ago. Egyptians knew about this pathology and performed cauterizations to kill tumors visible to the naked eye. Despite significant advances, works performed on mummies from the Pharaonic Egypt show that ancient medicine was based on an idea that was mainly magical.
It is at the end of the 5th century BC that the first concepts of oncology appeared thanks to Hippocrates’ research. Called the prince of physicians, he assigned to medicine a rigorous methodology where reasoning was based on observation. In his publications he described skin, rectum, breast and uterus tumors that he named in Greek “carcinos” because their aspect recalled that of the crab.
Thereafter, towards the end of the first millennium, Arab medicine, well ahead of the rest of the world, was marked by the works of some visionary practitioners. At the beginning of the year 1,000 Avicenna, a renowned doctor in Baghdad, noticed that the tumor slowly increased, invaded and destroyed a part of the body and led to a loss of sensation in the diseased part. Then, Albucasis, a great doctor from Cordoba, recommended excision when cancer was at its early stages, and advised to burn tissues surrounding the tumor.
The first breast cancer expert in history was the Italian Marco Sevirini, in the 16th century. He described various mammary outgrowths, drew them precisely and recommended to remove all the tumors, that he named “abscesses”, before they degenerated. His work focused on a detailed catalog of all the types of mammary tumors.
Treatments used at the time were based on heavy surgeries like amputations without anesthesia, or they burnt the tumor with a red-hot iron which generally caused lethal hemorrhagic infections.
During the last decades, curing cancer started to be possible thanks to the introduction of treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and preventive practices became routine among healthcare professionals. Here, a true revolution has been marked lately by technological progresses in DNA screening: it is now possible to analyze risk factors related to the genetic heritage, thus we know that most cancers result from cell mutations. Some people carry mutations inherited from an ancestor, which imply a higher risk to develop certain disease.
Therefore, early detection of genetic mutations is crucial to prevent breast cancer: most eminent scientists advise to include the screening of BRCA1 and BRCA2 (Breast Cancer 1 and Breast Cancer 2) genes in the routine medical care for all women in their thirties.
These two genes are associated to an increased risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer when they undergo mutations.
Thanks to advanced screening of hereditary and non-hereditary mutations, doctor and patient can immediately implement adapted therapeutic strategies and personalized treatments. On this matter, Mary-Claire King, one of the leading scientists in human genetics advocates:“The more women screened for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, the greater the number of lives that will be saved”.
For further information check Serenity, Genoma’s Breast and Ovarian Cancer risk screening test.