Breast cancer is 5000 years old: Expert

M Somasekhar Hyderabad | Updated on November 20, 2019

Laszlo Tabar, a leading Radiologist and expert on breast cancer

A prominent historian states that breast cancer took the lives of prominent women including Empress Theodora, mother of Louis XIV of France and Mary Washington

Did you know that the first case of human breast cancer was detected 5000 years ago?

According to Laszlo Tabar, a leading Radiologist and expert on breast cancer, there is evidence of it from Papyrus inscriptions, dating back to 3000 BC.

“Now, the sad part is, till 1970, virtually nothing happened in fighting it and millions of women succumbed without medical help. This, despite the fact that the field of surgery is 10,000 years old, and internal medicine is 15,000 years old, as per records,” he said.

Breast cancer in ancient Egypt

Throughout history, neither money nor power could stop breast cancer as is clear from the premature death of the powerful Queen Atossa of Babylon, Egypt, 2500 years ago. Tabar cited the seminal work titled ‘ Women, Cancer & History, Bathsheba’s Breast’ by historian James S Olson, who lost his forearm to cancer. Bathsheba, is the wife of the Biblical King David and subject of Rembrandt ‘s painting Bathsheba at her bath.

Olson narrates that the disease was known in ancient Egypt. It took the lives of prominent women including Empress Theodora, wife of Justinian, Anne of Austria, mother of Louis XIV of France, Mary Washington etc.

75 per cent of breast cancer cases detectable at an early stage

The encouraging news, atleast now, is that 75 per cent of cases of breast cancer can be detected at an early stage, thanks to the advances in the last 50 years, Tabar, from the University of Uppsala, Sweden told BusinessLine.

The turning point came in 1970 with the invention of the Low Dose film screen mammography, which was the first breakthrough in early detection. Until then physicians traditionally fought a losing battle against breast cancer. The disease was far advanced by the time it was known, he said. The reason was doctors depended on noticing palpations, which in reality was an advanced stage.

In Hyderabad, as the keynote speaker in an international meeting on Breast Cancer (BISICON 2019) recently, Tabar said that since 1970 steady developments have taken place in understanding this complex and difficult cancer. Armed with advanced mammography, use of 3D, ultrasound and othe imaging techniques, doctors are able to improve early detection and treatment methods.

Why are scientists and medical professionals baffled by the ailment?

The reason why breast cancer baffles scientists and medical professionals is that the cause for its occurrence is still evading a definite answer. Moreover, like Polio or HPV (Human Papilloma Virus)that causes Uterine cancer, there are vaccines to prevent, but in breast cancer still no hope exists on that front, he added.

Therefore, the best weapon with the medical fraternity to fight breast cancer is early detection and there is atleast 40 years of experience and accumulating data that points to growing hopes in taming this scourge through more effective interventions in the future, Tabar says.

Referring to the incidence, he said there is a steady 1.0-1.5 per cent increase in incidence per year all over the world is increasing also in younger women.

“Currently available therapy is far more effective when given earlier in the natural history of the disease and has limited effect on averting breast cancer death in advanced disease diagnosed in women who did not attend mammography screening. It is time to focus attention on the combination of early diagnosis and therapy, instead of viewing them as independent, or worse, as competing interests,” he suggested.

“We have never been in a better position in the entire history of medicine to deliver life-saving breast imaging services with such a high level of quality as we can today. For each breast cancer death prevented by screening, the woman will be spared the terminal stages of the disease and she will gain an average of 16.5 life years,” he said.

The revolution in detecting breast cancer in its non-palpable, early phase should be considered a major medical accomplishment that influences half of the population on Earth directly and the other half indirectly, he added.

Published on November 20, 2019

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