I have had many women sit in my office sipping tea and ask me about the discovery of breast cancer and some of the earliest treatments. I thought it might be helpful to summarize those conversations and share the history with my readers.
For many, it is inconceivable to think that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women around the world. And because of this, it has been widely studied throughout history. In reality, the research done on breast cancer has contributed to breakthroughs in other types of cancer research. So even though many may think not enough progress has been made in breast cancer, the research has been helpful to many others.
Medical writings about breast cancer date back to 3,000-2,500 BCE! In ancient Greece, people made offerings in the shape of a breast to the God of Medicine. Hippocrates described the stages of breast cancer in the early 400’s BCE. In the first century AD, doctors actually began experimenting with surgical incisions to destroy tumors. They also thought that breast cancer must be linked with the end of menstruation so this belief prompted its association with older age. In the Middle Ages, medical progress and religious philosophies became closely linked. Christians thought that surgery was barbaric and were in favor of faith healing and Muslim doctors studied the Greek medical books to learn more about breast cancer. The Renaissance saw an uptick in surgery as doctors began exploring the human body. John Hunter, the Scottish father of investigative surgery, identified lymph as a cause of breast cancer. Lumpectomies began to be performed, but there was no anesthesia so surgeons had to operate quickly and accurately. The first radical mastectomy was performed in 1882. This surgery methodology would remain the standard operation to treat breast cancer until the 20th century. By 1895 the first X-ray was taken. Eventually, the x-ray technology was used to develop mammograms. In 1898, the Curies discovered radioactive radium and polonium. Shortly thereafter, radium is used in cancer treatment. The 1980’s-1990’s brought about new discoveries. New drugs such as Tamoxifen and Raloxifene are developed that help reduce breast cancer risk for postmenopausal women who are at higher risk. The latter has a lower chance of serious side effects than Tamoxifen. New surgical techniques are also discovered that are not as disfiguring.
Currently, breast cancer treatment is becoming more personalized as doctors learn more about the disease. Also, being able to isolate specific genes and classify breast cancer accordingly is the beginning of more tailored treatment options. Special tests can tell doctors more about breast cancer. One test, Onotype DX, can examine a part of the tumor to find out which genes are active in the tumor. With this information, they can predict how a person’s cancer will respond to different treatments. Then doctors can decide on the best course of treatment for that person.
This is all great news if you already have cancer. Notice how they are using genetic testing to discover the DNA of the cancer tumor in order to specifically target and kill the cancer cells? That is totally related to how I help clients. Now remember, I am all about PREVENTION not treatment. I use the DNA of the person to design a specific, individualized plan to prevent getting the most common kind of breast cancer. This acts specifically on your DNA just like the doctors use their treatments to act specifically on the DNA of the tumor. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather take the DNA of a person verses a tumor so that we can stop someone from developing cancer in the first place! Again, please understand using the DNA of the tumor is fabulous for treatment. But, the horse is already out of the barn! So much emphasis is placed on treatment and early detection that we have forgotten all about PREVENTION.