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250 Years of Advances Against Cancer

  • Updated: 02/10/2014

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250 Years of Advances Against Cancer - 1980s

1980
NCI scientist Robert Gallo and his colleagues isolate human T-cell lymphotrophic virus 1 (HTLV-1). This virus, also called adult T-cell leukemia virus, causes adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma and several other diseases.

NCI researcher Mark Greene and his colleagues describe a new syndrome, dysplastic nevus syndrome, in melanoma-prone families. Later work will show that dysplastic nevi, which are moles that look different from common moles, are precursors not only of hereditary melanomas but also of melanomas that develop in people without a family history of the disease.
1981
A randomized controlled clinical trial in the United Kingdom shows, for the first time, that women whose breast cancer was treated surgically with a modified radical mastectomy had similar rates of overall survival, disease-free survival, local recurrence, and tumor metastasis as women who had a radical mastectomy.
1982
The hepatitis B virus vaccine, developed by Baruch Blumberg and Irving Millman, is approved by the FDA for the prevention of liver cancer.

Scientists report the cloning of an oncogene from human bladder cancer cells. This oncogene, a mutated form of the proto-oncogene Ha-RAS1, is the first human oncogene to be cloned.
1984
The human TP53 (p53) gene is cloned.

DNA from human papillomavirus (HPV) types 16 and 18 is identified in a large percentage of cervical cancers, establishing a link between infection with these HPV types and cervical carcinogenesis.

The human epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene is isolated. EGFR is a proto-oncogene that, when activated by mutation or overexpressed due to gene amplification, plays a role in the development of certain cancers, including non-small cell lung cancer and colorectal cancer.

Barry Marshall and Robin Warren report the discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori in biopsy specimens from patients with chronic gastritis and peptic ulcers. H. pylori would later be recognized as a major cause of gastric cancer and gastric mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma.
1985
Results from an NCI-supported, randomized controlled clinical trial show that women with early-stage breast cancer who were treated with breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy) followed by whole-breast radiation therapy had similar rates of overall survival and disease-free survival as women who were treated with mastectomy alone.
1986
The human proto-oncogene HER2 (also called neu and erbB2) is cloned. Overexpression of the protein product of this gene, which occurs in about 20 to 25 percent of breast cancers (known as HER2-positive breast cancers), is associated with more aggressive disease and a poor prognosis.

The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is approved by the FDA for monitoring the progression of prostate cancer in men already diagnosed with the disease. The PSA test would later be approved by the FDA, in conjunction with the digital rectal exam, as a screening test for prostate cancer.

The World Health Organization publishes its first guidelines on the management of cancer pain, recommending a three-step sequential approach in administering pain medication to patients until they are pain free. Nonopioid drugs (e.g., aspirin and acetaminophen) should be tried first, followed by mild opioids (e.g., codeine), and then strong opioids (e.g., morphine) if necessary.
1987
Stephen Friend, Robert Weinberg, and their colleagues report that they have cloned the human retinoblastoma (RB) gene, which is a tumor suppressor gene.
1988
Results of an NCI-supported, randomized controlled clinical trial show that patients with colorectal cancer who were treated with surgery followed by adjuvant chemotherapy with the drugs 5-FU, semustine (an alkylating agent), and vincristine had better overall survival and disease-free survival than patients who were treated with surgery alone.

The proto-oncogene BRAF is discovered. Later work would show that this gene is commonly mutated in melanoma and in papillary thyroid carcinoma.
1989
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is discovered. Chronic infection with HCV is later found to be a major cause of liver cancer.

Napoleone Ferrara and colleagues purify vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a protein that stimulates blood vessel development, and clone its gene. Finding ways to block the activity of this angiogenesis factor—and potentially inhibiting the growth of tumor blood vessels—would become a major focus of cancer research.