Progress in cancer: From dinosaurs to diagnostics

Cancer is not a single static disease. It is a complex condition and more than 250 types have been identified so far.

Dinosaurs had cancer too

Tumours have recently been discovered in dinosaur bones from around 70 million years ago, though the first description of cancer appeared a little later in 3000BC in Ancient Egypt. The writing noted, "There is no treatment".

Scientists used to think cancer was contagious

In Holland in 1649 Zacutus Lusitani proposed that cancer patients should be isolated for fear that cancer would spread. We now understand that human cancer is not contagious, though chronic infection with certain viruses, bacteria and parasites can increase the risk of developing cancer.

Surgery for cancer was introduced in the 18th century

Early surgical procedures were performed without anaesthetic and could be severely disfiguring. Today, patients with many common cancers can be treated with minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery where tumours are removed through small incisions.

Do you know which major cancer treatment was discovered during WW1?

Modern-day chemotherapy has its origins on the battlefields of WW1. Scientists researching why soldiers exposed to mustard gas had died, discovered a low number of immune cells in their blood and hypothesised that if the gas could destroy normal white blood cells, it could also destroy white blood cell cancer. Further experiments proved their theory correct, and this was the beginning of chemotherapy.

Today's chemotherapies can improve survival, dramatically improve quality of life and even cure some cancers.

Detecting cancer early dramatically increases a patient’s chance of survival

For example, 99% of all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Thanks to modern diagnostic techniques, women can be screened for HPV infections. When detected and managed at the very earliest stage, cervical cancer has over a 93% cure rate.

80% of cancers in low income countries are diagnosed at a late stage, making palliation the only treatment option available

Despite advances in diagnostics and cancer treatments, universal access to medical innovation and quality healthcare remains a global challenge.

Obesity looks set to overtake tobacco as the leading preventable cause of cancer

A growing healthcare challenge globally, not only is obesity a factor in cancer diagnosis, but it is also linked to recurrence of cancer and mortality rates.

Your own immune system can help you fight cancer

Today our understanding of the biology of cancer has led to the development of drugs which harness our own immune systems – either by stimulating the immune system to attack cancer cells, or by boosting immune system components with man-made proteins.

Treatments work in different ways with some boosting the immune system in a general way, and other more targeted therapies which interfere with specific molecules involved in cancer cell growth and survival.

Scientists believe that in the future a 'cure' may be reached by re-establishing the correct equilibrium between the cancer and the immune system.

More people are surviving cancer than ever before

7 out of 10 children are now cured of cancer! Childhood cancers respond well to chemotherapy as they are usually fast growing cancers, and most forms of chemotherapy affect quickly growing cells. Children's bodies are also largely better able to recover from higher doses of treatment than adults' bodies.

Two out of three people are now living at least five years after their cancer has been diagnosed. Within the last decade alone, the response rates to treatments across all cancers have nearly doubled.

Personalised Healthcare recognises that each cancer patient is unique

Traditionally, all patients diagnosed with a certain type of cancer received the same treatment. These one-size-fits-all products worked for some patients, but were ineffective for others or caused side effects.

By using specific diagnostic tests, doctors can now predict how well a patient responds to treatment. These tests also enable physicians to determine the best dosage and duration of treatment.

Personalised healthcare already enables targeted, more effective treatments for different sub-types of breast, lung, skin and blood cancers. Today, the majority of new pharmaceuticals are being developed with a specific companion diagnostic test.

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