Major Milestones Against Cancer

Major Milestones Against Cancer

The Cancer Progress Timeline is an interactive, data-rich resource that provides an historical overview of major advances in cancer that have led to better patient outcomes and quality of life. More than 400 milestones spanning 170 years are chronicled in the Timeline—from the advent of general anesthesia opening the door for cancer surgery in the mid-1800s to the first gene therapy for cancer approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2017.

The Major Milestones Against Cancer Timeline highlights some of the most important advances across cancer care and research. Many of these milestones were supported by federal research funding, and nearly all of them are the result of rigorously conducted clinical trials, made possible by the participation of thousands of individuals with cancer. ASCO’s federally funded research badge is featured on milestones that stemmed from research funded at least in part by the National Cancer Institute or other federal agencies.

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1949

First chemotherapy drug approved for cancer

First chemotherapy drug approved for cancer

Following results of clinical trials conducted in 1946 and 1947, nitrogen mustard is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma. Nitrogen mustard – also known as mustard gas and stockpiled as a weapon in World War II – kills cancer cells by modifying their DNA through a process called alkylation. Its discovery spurs rapid advancements in chemotherapy, and the drug still receives some use today in combination chemotherapy for Hodgkin lymphoma.

1947

First-ever remission of pediatric leukemia

First-ever remission of pediatric leukemia

Sidney Farber, a physician at Children's Hospital Boston, achieves the first partial remission of pediatric leukemia in a 4-year-old girl using the drug aminopterin. He soon documents 10 cases of remission in a landmark scientific paper. Until this time, children with acute leukemia usually died within weeks of being diagnosed. While early remissions prove temporary, they pave the way for therapies that cure thousands of patients in the decades to come, allowing most childhood cancer patients to live long, healthy lives.

1943

Introduction of Pap test leads to dramatic declines in cervical cancer deaths

Introduction of Pap test leads to dramatic declines in cervical cancer deaths

The Pap test, named for its inventor, George Papanicolaou, enables doctors to detect and treat cervical cancers or pre-cancers before they have a chance to spread. Since the 1950s, widespread use of the Pap test has helped to reduce U.S. cervical cancer death rates by nearly 70 percent. Yet cervical cancer remains a major cause of cancer death in developing countries, where access to screening and treatment is limited.

1937

National Cancer Institute established

1903

First use of radiation to treat cancer

First use of radiation to treat cancer

Five years after Marie Curie's discovery of radium, doctors report the first successful of use of this radioactive element to treat cancer, in two Russian patients with skin cancer. In the following decades, radiation becomes widely used to treat many different cancers, including cervical, prostate, breast and other tumors. In these first decades, doctors use an approach known as brachytherapy, in which small pieces of radioactive material are implanted inside or next to tumors, delivering radiation to cancer cells at close range. Brachytherapy remains an essential part of cancer treatment today, but has been refined to more precisely target tumor cells while leaving healthy tissue unharmed.