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Discuss Various Historical Theories and Misconception of Cancer (pre 1890s)

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Some believe that cancer is a modern disease in our time, but the fact that cancer exists thousands of years ago. The oldest cancer case in ancient Egypt was found in a written description of the cancer in the Egyptian papyrus which the details were referred to eight cases of breast tumors dating back to between 1500-3000 BC. It was treated by cauterization which destroyed tissue. The ancient surgical manuscripts describe the bleakly note, “There is no treatment”(2) only palliative treatment. It was believed that cancer was caused by the Gods.

In Ancient Greece, Hippocrates believed that the body was composed of four fluids 🙁 blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile). It is believed that the presence excess of black bile in any site of the body caused cancer. This was the general thought of the cause of cancer for the 1,400 years. Treatment was based on the humor theory of four bodily fluid the Treatment was consisted by diet, blood-letting, and / or laxatives. After it has been discovered that cancer can happen anywhere in the human body, still Hippocrates theory of humor has remained popular and standard until the 19th century with the discovery of cells. The first to realize the difference between benign and malignant tumors is Hippocrates; his writings describe cancers of many sites of the body. He called the disease karkinos (the Greek name for crab), as well as carcinoma, the Greek physician Galen used oncos (Greek for swelling) to describe all tumours, reserving Hippocrates’ term carcinos for malignant tumors (1)

The discovery of general anesthesia in the mid-19th century with the widespread use of microscopy in the 18th century set off the golden age of surgical innovation, and in the 19th century the surgical removal of the tumor became the primary treatment of cancer. There are many of theories about other causes of cancer throughout history, including: Infectious disease theory (Parasite theory) Till 18th century, scientists believed that cancer was contagious and spreads through parasite Zacutus Lusitani (1575-1642) and Nicholas Tulp (1593-1674), 2 doctors in Holland, concluded at almost the same time that cancer was contagious. They made this conclusion based on their experiences with breast cancer in members of the same household (3). They proposed that cancer patients should be isolated outside of cities to prevent the spread of cancer.

Humoral theory

Hippocrates believed that the body had 4 humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. He is believed that the presence excess of black bile in any site of the body caused cancer the person be healthy When the humors are balanced.

Lymph theory

This theory states that cancer is formed by a fluid called lymph. It is believed that life consists of a continuous movement of the body’s fluids, such as lymph and blood. Stahl and Hoffman theorized that cancer was composed of fermenting and degenerating lymph, varying in density, acidity, and alkalinity(3).This lymphatic theory gained rapid support and in the17 century the theory was supported that the tumors grows from lymph constantly thrown out by the blood.

Blastema theory

In 1838, demonstrated that cancer is made up of cells and not lymph, but he believed that cancer cells did not come from normal cells. His student, Rudolph Virchow (1821-1902), the famous German pathologist, determined that all cells, including cancer cells, are derived from other cells(3).

Chronic irritation theory the cause of cancer was chronic irritation, but he believed the cancers “spread like a liquid” and This belief is incorrect.

Trauma theory

Despite the progress in understanding the causes of cancer, there was a belief that the cause of cancer by trauma and this belief is incorrect.

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