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Breast Cancer Research – A Historic Timeline

Breast cancer research has a long history.

While some may believe that cancer is a modern disease, it is actually not a new phenomenon. This disease has affected lives many years before conventional treatments were approved. In 2017, cancer was responsible for approximately 9.6 million deaths alone, even with the enhanced medical advancements that we have today. With that being said, can you imagine how many lives this disease cost prior to its discovery and scientific research? Out of all the different cancer types, breast cancer was one of the first documented by the ancient Egyptians. Since then, many scientific developments in the medical community have improved the prognosis of many breast cancer patients. Below is a historic timeline of breast cancer research and the progress that has been made to mitigate this terrible disease.

Breast Cancer Research Timeline

3,000 B.C.

In ancient Egypt, a medical textbook called the Edwin Smith Papyrus was written and documented describing the presence of eight different cases of ulcers, mainly located within the breast, which had to be removed withcauterization. At the time, knowledge on the disease was unknown and there were no sources of treatment to stop the growth of tumors in the body.

460-370 B.C.

Hippocrates; the father of Western Medicine, originated the words “carcinos” and “carcinoma” to describe what looked like an ulcer. He described it as a humoral disease that was caused by the excess of black bile. During this time, little was still known about the actual disease, however these are Greek terms that refer to a crab. Many wonder what prompted Hippocrates to name a terminal illness after a crustacean. Some theorize that the texture of a malignant tumor is as hard as the shell of a crab and the pain that the tumor causes is similar to the pinch of a crab’s claw. Some believe that the tumors “seemed to have tentacles, like the legs of a crab¹”. However, others believe that it has to do with the tenacity of a crab, and how when they pinch, they clamp on and don’t let go, similar to tumors that are difficult to eliminate.

28-50 B.C.

A Roman physician named Celsus translated the Greek term into “cancer”, which is also Latin for crab.

130-200 A.D.

A Greek physician named Galen used the term oncos to describe breast cancer tumors. This term is still used today to describe cancer specialists: oncologists. Additionally, he agreed with Hippocrates’ black bile theory, however suggested that some tumors were deadlier than others, and provided treatments such as castor oil, licorice, salves, and opium as a way to reduce the breast cancer growth.


An Italian physician named Bernardino Ramazzini hypothesized that breast cancer was induced due to lack of sexual activity. At that time, some women suppressed their sexual desires due to religious reasons. Ramazzini believed that a decrease in sex affected the reproductive organs and led to the development of cancer in the breast. However, this was soon debunked when a researcher named Friedrich Hoffman made comparisons to women who had regular sex, yet still frequently developed breast cancer.


French physician Henri Le Dran recommended that surgically removing the breast cancer tumors would help treat the cancer as long as infected lymph nodes of the armpits were also removed. Scottish surgeon, John Hunter, argued that lymph was the cause of breast cancer, and in order for them to be removed, they couldn’t invade nearby tissues. Additionally, anesthesia was not yet developed, therefore, if a surgery was performed, it needed to be fast and accurate in order to guarantee survival for the patient.


Blood transfusions, antiseptic and anesthesia were developed and approved, thus allowing surgery to become a safe and viable treatment option for breast cancer.


William Halstead of New York created radical mastectomy in order to remove breast tissue and extend the prognosis of women. As of today, this is still an option for some breast cancer patients.


X-ray technology is created to help people detect early tumors. Furthermore, Scottish surgeon, George Beatson uncovered that removal of ovaries reduced estrogen levels, thus decreasing breast tumor sizes.


Radioactive elements called radium and polonium are discovered by Polish and French physicist/chemists, Marie and Pierre Curie. Radium is eventually used in radiation treatment as another form of conventional breast cancer treatment.


German chemist Paul Ehrlich began developing drugs to treat certain infectious diseases and coined the term as “chemotherapy”. Development of these drugs would continue to be created, tested and used in breast cancer treatments throughout World War II.


Insulin-potentiation therapy (IPT) is developed by Dr. Donato Perez Garcia of Mexico to use as an alternative cancer treatment. As more chemo drugs are approved, this treatment becomes modified to include lower dosages of the drugs that are needed for the patients.


Modifications to the mastectomy procedures are introduced so that women feel less disfigured.


Radiation therapy is approved and used in addition to surgery.


The first American thermographic camera is developed as a potential screening tool.


Mechlorethamine becomes the first chemotherapeutic drug to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


Surgeon George Crile stated that cancer was not localized and had the ability to spread throughout the body and metastasize.


Bernard Fisher agreed with Crile’s hypothesis. Additionally, Fisher made strides in the development of breast cancer treatment after publishing results using “breast-conserving surgery followed by radiation or chemotherapy¹”.


More research is performed on breast tumors leading to the discovery of HER2; a more aggressive type of breast cancer that is less responsive to treatments. In addition, more chemotherapy drugs are approved throughout the 1980s and 1990s as different breast cancer tumors are tested.

Present Day

While chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are all widely used in conventional medicine, alternative forms of treatment became more popular due to less damaging side effects to the immune system. Today, both conventional and alternative treatment options are available to those seeking treatment for breast cancer and all other forms of cancer.

Depending on the type of cancer and its stage determines the type of treatment that a practitioner or oncologist will recommend to the patient. At the end of the day, it is up to the patient on what treatment options they want to move forward with. At LifeWorks Wellness Center, we have assisted patients to successfully battle their breast cancer using less invasive forms of chemotherapy (like the IPT) for 23 years. Additionally, we’ve also used other methods such as peptides, intravenous therapies, ozone therapies, supplements, and dietary changes.

If you or someone that you know have been diagnosed with breast cancer and are interested in seeking alternative treatment, please call to schedule an appointment with a LifeWorks cancer specialist at 727-466-6789.

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