The History of Cancer

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History of cancer screening and early detection

Screening refers to tests and exams used to find a disease, such as cancer, in people who do not have any symptoms. The first screening test to be widely used for cancer was the Pap test. The test was developed by George Papanicolaou as a research method in understanding the menstrual cycle. Papanicolaou soon recognized its potential for finding cervical cancer early and presented his findings in 1923. At first, most doctors were skeptical, and it was not until the American Cancer Society (ACS) promoted the test during the early 1960s that this test became widely used. Since that time, the cervical cancer death rate in the United States has declined by about 70%.

Modern mammography methods were developed late in the 1960s and first officially recommended by the ACS in 1976.

Current American Cancer Society guidelines include methods for early detection of cancers of the cervix, breast, colon and rectum, endometrium, lung, and prostate, as well as a cancer-related check-up which, depending on a person’s age and gender, might include exams for cancers of the thyroid, mouth, skin, lymph nodes, testes, and ovaries.


Last Medical Review: 06/12/2014
Last Revised: 06/12/2014