January 23, 2023

Breast Cancer Breakthroughs: How Treatment Has Evolved Through the Years

We’re taking you from ancient Greece all the way to the future to show how far we’ve come in treating breast cancer — and how far we still have to go.

It’s easy to look back on the time before technology ruled our lives as “the good old days.” Kids played outside instead of burying their faces in their devices! Everyone trusted the news! Friends kept in touch by talking on the phone, rather than through Facebook posts and text messages! But when you dig a little bit deeper, it’s clear that innovations in technology have led to hugely positive and even lifesaving breakthroughs — particularly when it comes to breast cancer.

In the early 1900s, when the average lifespan for an American woman was just 48 years, women were likely too preoccupied with the dangers of now-preventable diseases like consumption or pneumonia to even worry about a potential breast cancer diagnosis. If you were an adult in the early 1970s, you may not have had to worry about the 24-hour news cycle, but you also probably didn’t have access to a mammogram.

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’ve highlighted some of the biggest historical breakthroughs in the breast cancer space starting all the way back in 400 BCE. To help us make sense of the more modern advances, we enlisted the help of Christy Russell, MD, former director of the USC/Norris Breast Cancer Center and current Vice President of Medical Affairs at Exact Sciences. Dr. Russell also shared her insight on what we might be able to expect for the future of breast cancer.

400 BC: Cancer is named

Hippocrates, known as “the father of medicine,” (ever heard of the Hippocratic oath? That’s all thanks to this guy) coined the term “cancer.” The word is possibly derived from the Greek word for crab, due to the invasive nature of the disease. We don’t know what sort of invasive crab problem they were having in Greece at the time, but it must have been pretty bad.