History of Chemotherapy

  • In 1500’s there were attempts to treat cancers by giving people ground up heavy metals to eat - didn't taste good, wasn't effective - but was very toxic!
  • World War I soldiers were exposed to nitrogen gas in the trenches. They developed leukopenia and lymphoid suppression.

Read about what it was like to experience a gas attack first hand in "DULCE ET DECORUM EST" by the First World War poet Wilfred Owen.

  • The observation of leukopenia led to nitrogen mustard being used as an anticancer agent in 1940’s.
  • Actinomycin was the second antibiotic to be developed after penicillin.
  • Other drugs were developed specifically for  cancer treatment - such as Antimetabolites (Methotrexate).


Why Use Chemotherapy?

  • Treats malignancy systemically
  • Prevents cancer cells from dividing, spreading via metastatic deposits and causing death of the patient.


Goals of Chemotherapy:

  • Cure - the aim is to completely eradicate cancer.
  • Palliation - the aim is to control the symptoms of the disease and restrain disease progression if possible, thereby improving the patient's quality of life.


Researchers continue to look for new and more effective agents to battle cancer such as targeted therapies.






Back to top