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250 Years of Advances Against Cancer - 1970s

1971
Alfred Knudson proposes the "two-hit" mutation hypothesis for the development of retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eye that mainly affects children under the age of 6, suggesting that retinoblastoma is caused by two genetic mutations, one that is inherited and one that occurs after birth. This hypothesis is consistent with the multi-step nature of carcinogenesis, which was originally proposed by Carl Nordling in 1953.

Judah Folkman and his colleagues report that they have isolated a factor from human and animal tumors that stimulates the growth of new blood vessels toward tumors, a phenomenon known as tumor angiogenesis. They suggest that blocking tumor angiogenesis might inhibit tumor growth.

On December 23, President Richard M. Nixon signs the National Cancer Act, which authorizes the NCI Director to coordinate all activities of the National Cancer Program, to establish national cancer research centers, and to establish national cancer control programs.
1972
Godfrey Hounsfield describes his invention of computerized transverse axial scanning, which is more commonly known as computerized tomographic (CT) scanning. This invention enables the creation of detailed two-dimensional and three-dimensional images of tissues and structures inside the body and would become a vital tool in cancer diagnosis and radiation therapy planning and treatment.
1974
The FDA approves doxorubicin, an anthracycline antibiotic from Streptomyces bacteria, for the treatment of cancer.

Howard Temin proposes the provirus hypothesis of cancer, which holds that oncogenes are created when DNA copies of the genetic material of RNA tumor viruses are made (through the action of an enzyme called reverse transcriptase) and inserted into the human genome.
1975
Hybridoma technology is developed for the large-scale production of monoclonal antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies would become important tools in cancer research and treatment.
1976
Results of a randomized controlled clinical trial conducted in Italy show that women with early-stage, axillary lymph node-positive breast cancer who were treated with post-operative (adjuvant) cyclophosphamide, methotrexate, and 5-FU combination chemotherapy had longer disease-free survival than women who were treated with surgery alone.

Dominique Stehelin, Harold Varmus, J. Michael Bishop, and Peter Vogt discover that the DNA of normal chicken cells contains a gene that is related to the oncogene of avian sarcoma virus, which is an RNA tumor virus that causes cancer in chickens. The identification of this gene (c-Src), first in chickens and later in humans, would eventually lead to the understanding that cells contain normal genes, called proto-oncogenes, that can cause cancer when they become mutated or expressed at higher than normal levels (i.e., they become oncogenes).

Interleukin-2 is discovered in mice. This protein, an immune system cytokine (a hormone-like substance) that plays a role in the development of disease-fighting white blood cells called T lymphocytes, or T cells, would later be used in the treatment of metastatic melanoma and metastatic renal cell (kidney) cancer.
1978
Tamoxifen, an antiestrogen drug, is approved by the FDA for the treatment of breast cancer. This drug, which was originally developed as a birth control treatment, is the first of a class of drugs known as selective estrogen receptor modulators, or SERMs, to be approved for cancer therapy.

The FDA approves cisplatin for use in combination with other drugs in the treatment of metastatic testicular cancer and metastatic ovarian cancer. Cisplatin would be the first platinum-containing drug to be approved for cancer treatment and continues to be widely used today.
1979
The TP53 gene (also called p53) is discovered. This gene, the most frequently mutated gene in human cancer, is a tumor suppressor gene, meaning that its protein product (p53 protein) helps to control cell proliferation and suppress tumor growth.
  • Updated: February 10, 2014