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History of Cancer Timeline - Discovering and Treating Cancer Skip to content

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Major Events in the History of Cancer

A timeline of cancer discoveries and treatments

400 B.C.: Hippocrates uses the term karcinos to describe tumors. Karcinos evolved into cancer.

1846: Anesthesia becomes widely available. Surgery to remove tumors takes off.

1895: Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen invents X-rays. Radiation therapy follows.

1919: A chemical in the mustard gas used during World War I is found to reduce white blood cells. Chemotherapy is born.

1947: Chemotherapy records its first, though temporary, success with the remission of a pediatric leukemia patient.

1950s: Findings related to DNA give rise to molecular biology.

1964: A U.S. Surgeon General's report estabishes an undeniable link between smoking and cancer.

1971: President Nixon signs the National Cancer Act.

1972: The development of computed tomography (CT) revolutionizes radiology.

1973: Janet Rowley, M.D., shows chromosome abnormalities in those with cancer.

1981: FDA approves the first vaccine against hepatitis B, one of the primary causes of liver cancer.

Early 1990s: For the first time, overall cancer death rates begin to fall.

2001: The FDA approves Gleevec, the first drug to target a specific gene mutation.

2012: Cancer survivors reach 12 million, a fourfold increase since 1971 and a 20 percent increase since 2001.

Also of interest: Why more Americans are surviving cancer.

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