The Egyptians, Greeks and Hippocrates – Cancer History Then and Now

Hippocrates of ancient Greece is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine. Much information about the history of cancer has been credited to Hippocrates with the recognition of treatment of tumors which he named karcinos. That name evolved to cancer. He was born in 461 BC in Kos, Greecre and his medical career extended from 421- 404 BC. He was born to a wealthy family and the wealth allowed him to receive a fine education. He excelled in mathematics, music, poetry, philosophy and athletics. His father was also a physician and Hippocrates learned much as he went along when his father visited his patients. Hippocrates also traveled and brought his teachings to surrounding areas..

In the early days of his practice, although his teaching and his medical deductions in regard to natural preventive medicine was accepted by most people and by those he taught. the authorities did not agree. They set themselves up as mediators and spokesmen for the gods of that day, including those who ruled over health. Hippocrates was imprisoned for 20 years over his belief that diseases had natural causes rather than as the result of superstitions and gods. While he was in prison, he wrote a paper called “The Complicated Body” and included his belief in the healing power of nature and that the body could heal itself. His writing encompassed many things about the body that we know to be true today.

From another of his writings,”On the Physician,”. he wrote that the physician should always be well-kept, honest, calm, understanding, serious, paying close attention to the patient and all that surrounded the patient.

Hippocrates established the Hippocrates School of Medicine in the days of ancient Greece and it was this school which established medicine as a profession.

Cancer is not a new disease. The contributions of the ancient Greek and Egyptian cultures have made it possible for medical practitioners to have a greater knowledge of cancer today. Although Hippocrates contributed much to cancer research and that he named the disease, he was not the first to discover the disease.

The world’s oldest documented cases of cancer were from ancient Egypt in 1500 BC. The details of the discovery of 8 tumors on the breast was recorded on papyrus and describes how the tumors were treated by cauterization which was the method used to destroy tissue with a hot instrument called a “fire drill”. The only other treatment was palliative. Evidence also shows that the Egyptians could discern whether a tumor was benign or malignant. Surface tumors were removed by surgery similar to the way they are removed today.

The modern trend is “oncological disease”, which is a better description, since the scientific studies of its nature, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, recovery and palliative care of the disease called “cancer” must have coordinated treatment.

Today oncology includes surgery, internal medicine,radiotherapy, anatomical pathology, clinical and fundamental research. The oncologist does not work alone. He is a member of a team where everyone has to have a thorough knowledge of all the other descriptions related to the study of cancer. The team of medical personnel who took care of me were all housed in one building and I had only short walks to the lab, to the infusion room, to the surgeon, the cardiologist, the primary physician, the diagnostic scans, the colonoscopy specialist and each of these specialist were included in the loop following my care. A physician inserted a port right above my right breast so that I didn’t have to have a needle in the arm for the scans and infusions. The vein where it was inserted became clogged and the port had to be redone. It was attached to my jugular vein and remains there today so that when I go for my 3 months checkups, the technicians can access the port to take my scan which is much easier, quicker for them and more comfortable for me.

Many medical improvements, such as the widely available anesthesia which was introduced in 1846 and the invention of the x-ray in 1885 have been introduced into the improvement of cancer treatment. The discovery of a chemical in the mustard gas used in WWI was found to reduce white blood cells. Chemotherapy was born in 1919, but did not record its first success until 1947 with the remission of a pediatric leukemia patient. The year of 1964 brought research which showed a connection from smoking to cancer. The biggest push for cancer research came after President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act in 1971. Following quickly after the Act became law, the CT scan was developed in 1972 and there was a discovery of chromosome abnormalities in cancer patients in 1973. In 1981 the FDA approved the vaccine for treatment of hepatitis which is one of the primary causes of liver cancer During the early 1990’s for the first time, overall cancers began to fall. The FDA approved Gleevec, the first drug to target a specific gene mutation and in this year of 2012 cancer survivors total 12 million, a four fold increase in survivors since the Act was signed and a 20 percent increase since 2001.

Good ideas for today from Hippocrates: “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food” and “Foolish is the doctor who despises the knowledge acquired by the ancients.”