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250 Years of Advances Against Cancer - 1950s

Ernst Wynder, Evarts Graham, and Richard Doll identify cigarette smoking as an important factor in the development of lung cancer.
James Watson and Francis Crick determine that the molecular structure of DNA is a double helix.

Carl Nordling proposes that cancer cells contain mutations in multiple genes and that cancer-inducing mutations accumulate as a person ages—explaining, in part, why cancer is primarily a disease of the elderly. The multi-step nature of carcinogenesis would be confirmed in many later studies.

The FDA approves methotrexate, an antimetabolite derived from folic acid, and 6-mercaptopurine as anticancer drugs.

Roy Hertz and Min Chiu Li achieve the first complete cure of a human solid tumor by chemotherapy when they use the drug methotrexate to treat a patient with choriocarcinoma, a rare cancer of the reproductive tissue that mainly affects women.
Charles Heidelberger describes the development of 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), an antimetabolite still used widely in cancer chemotherapy. His research was supported by a grant from NCI.
NCI researchers Emil Frei, Emil Freireich, and James Holland and their colleagues at NCI and other institutions pioneer the use of combination chemotherapy, in which multiple drugs with different mechanisms of action are used together, to treat cancer. Partial and complete remissions, as well as prolonged survival, were obtained in children and adults with acute leukemia who were treated with combinations of 6-mercaptopurine and methotrexate.
The FDA approves the drug cyclophosphamide, a nitrogen mustard alkylating agent, for the treatment of cancer. Cyclophosphamide is a pro-drug—a drug that's inactive until it's taken up by cells and metabolized to the active form.
  • Updated: February 10, 2014