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250 Years of Advances Against Cancer - 1800s

Rudolph Virchow identifies white blood cells (leukocytes) in cancerous tissue, making the first connection between inflammation and cancer. Virchow would coin the term "leukemia" and was the first person to describe the excess number of white blood cells in the blood of patients with this disease.
William Halsted performs the first radical mastectomy to treat breast cancer. In this surgical procedure, which was to remain the standard operation for breast cancer until the latter half of the 20th century, the entire breast, the lymph nodes under the arm adjacent to the breast (axillary lymph nodes), and the chest muscles behind the breast (pectoralis major and pectoralis minor) are removed.
Wilhelm Roentgen discovers X-rays. The first X-ray picture was an image of one of his wife's hands.
Marie and Pierre Curie discover the radioactive elements radium and polonium. Within a few years, the use of radium in cancer treatment would begin.
  • Updated: February 10, 2014