Breast cancer surgery: an historical narrative. Part I. From prehistoric times to Renaissance.Eur J Cancer Care (Engl). 2009 Nov; 18(6):530-44.EJ
Cancer was known as a disease since prehistoric times. Management of breast cancer evolved slowly through centuries in the ancient world up to the Renaissance. This period is marked by the absence of any scientifically verifiable understanding of the true nature of cancer and its natural history and consequently by a lack of effective treatment. Breast has been considered as a symbol of femininity, fertility and beauty. Hippocrates proposed that breast cancer, among other neoplasms, was a 'systemic disease' caused by an excess of black bile. The humoral theory was further supported by Galen and dominated for centuries in medicine. Fulguration and breast amputation by using various instruments to achieve a rapid operation were widely used up to the 18th century. The Renaissance was a revolutionary period, since it stimulated medical practice; at that time physicians started to scientifically study medicine. Vesalius greatly contributed in the advancement of surgery, and he vigorously opposed Galen's doctrines. Many great surgeons of that time (including Paré, Cabrol, Servetto, Scultetus, Tulp, Fabry von Hilded, etc.) advanced the science of surgery. Interestingly, Bartoleny Gabrol (1590) in Montpellier advocated radical mastectomy, which was popularised by Halsted, 300 years later. However, the lack of anaesthesia and the problem of wound infections (due to the lack of the aseptic techniques) generated significance and often problems for the surgeons of that time. Surgery was often 'heroic' but primitive and even inhumane by current standards. Therapeutic nihilism was the prevailing altitude regarding breast cancer, at least among the vast majority of surgeons.