Look How Far We've Come: An Inspirational Overview of the Advancements in Breast Cancer

treatment prevention

History gives hope when it comes to finding a cure for breast cancer. The last 50 years have been particularly productive in terms of discovering more about the way breast cancers act and implementing new treatments. Breast cancer is nothing new. The first recorded mention of it was way back in 3500 BCE. But, full-on awareness of what needs to be done to help those affected by breast cancer is, perhaps, at an all-time high.

Understanding breast cancer and treating patients with it has changed much since the days thousands of years ago when castor oil and opium were used to combat the disease some thought was due to too much “black bile.” This brief summation, based on a National Center for Biotechnology Information article written by Kiven Lukong and an article on Healthline, shows the progress that has been made during the past few centuries.


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Discovering Hope through History: Advancements in the Treatment and Prevention of Breast Cancer

In the 1700’s some doctors started removing tumors from the breast, trying to prevent the disease from spreading to the lymph nodes near the armpits. This led to the first radical mastectomy in 1882. Radical mastectomy persisted as one of the only available treatments through the onset of the 1900’s. However, the first x-ray in 1895 paved the way for mammography and early breast cancer detection.

By 1932, a new less disfiguring mastectomy procedure started being used. Five years later, in 1937, radiation in the form of needles filled with radium placed in the breast and around the armpits started being used in conjunction with tumor removal to avoid mastectomy.

Since then, several other approaches have been introduced to treat breast cancer. For example, in 1978, the Federal Drug Administration approved tamoxifen, the first of a new set of drugs called selective estrogen receptor modulators, for breast cancer treatments. By 1988 doctors recognized tamoxifen as preventing 50-percent of women who had a high risk of breast cancer from developing the disease. Since then, it has been approved as a preventative drug.

The 1980’s Brought an Important Discovery

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Researchers identified the HER2 gene that is connected with an aggressive form of breast cancer that is more resistant to treatments than other forms. In 1998, the FDA approved a drug called Trastuzumab for use in HER2 cases.

The 90’s brought more gene-related discoveries and an uptick in public support to find a cure as the pink ribbon became part of successful awareness and fundraising campaigns, in addition to the use of Trastuzumab and gaining a deeper understanding about HER2. Scientists cloned genes that suppress tumors (BRCA1 and BRCA2) and learned how mutations in those genes predict breast cancer risks. The 90’s also brought the approval of another estrogen-blocking drug called anastrozole. These types of moves continued to expand patient options.

With a new millennium came improved patient care and outcomes. Scientists in the 2000’s continued to discover more relationships between genes and tumors and began custom designing treatments for individuals. If a brief look at history can reveal one thing about breast cancer, it shows there is a long-running commitment to finding a cure.

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