Pathfinders in oncology from ancient times to the end of the Middle Ages

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Abstract

This commentary highlights the onset and progression of the diagnosis and treatment of cancer from ancient times to the 15th century. During the preparation of this synoptic review of the lives and contributions to oncology of 7 ancient physicians, it became clear that despite separation by centuries, ethnicity, and religion, they had many things in common. For example, with the exception of Chauliac, all were born into wealthy families, had an excellent education in the liberal arts and sciences, and were mentored by outstanding teachers. After they became physicians, they traveled extensively, were polyglots, were sponsored by influential individuals, had inquisitive minds, searched for the true nature of diseases, and were proud to share the results of their observations with others. Except for Galen, all of them were kind and well-mannered individuals. They cared with sincere dedication for the poor and those who had untreatable disease, including cancer. Although their understanding of cancer was limited, they were deeply concerned about the neglect and hopelessness of cancer patients. They were aware of their shortcomings in offering effective treatment beyond the surgical excision of early cancers. For advanced cancers, they had nothing to give beyond palliative care with herbals and minerals. All physicians who care for cancer patients owe these pioneer physicians, whatever their shortcomings, an inexpressible debt for their attempts to cure cancer. Cancer2016;122:1638-46. © 2016 American Cancer Society.

The biographies and historical background of 7 physicians who contributed the most to the progression of oncology from ancient times to the end of the Middle Ages are presented.

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