Lung cancer became a recognized disease in 1761. Today, lung cancer is one of the top cancers for its rate of incidence and mortality. Though lung cancer is often treatable at earlier stages, many at-risk individuals do not recognize the symptoms of early lung cancer-when there are any-because they closely mimic less-serious respiratory problems, such as bronchitis or a particularly bad cold. As a result, mortality rates remain high, numbering more than 1 million per year throughout the world. Despite its prevalence, the history of lung cancer is relatively short, and treatments have only begun to develop in the recent past.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, lung cancer was nearly nonexistent. Sources cite fewer than 400 known cases prior to 1912. While the low numbers may be due to lack of knowledge about the disease in part, it is also extremely likely that there just weren't very many people who got lung cancer before then. With the Industrial Revolution came rapidly rising pollution levels, exposure to asbestos and closed-pit mining, and-arguably the most damaging of all-the widespread prevalence of smoking. Smoking became a popular social activity, indoor smoking lounges became more and more popular, and lung cancer rates skyrocketed. Not long after World War I, deaths from lung cancer began to reach notable numbers.
History of lung cancer treatment
There were no recognized treatments for lung cancer before 1933, when the first successful surgical removal of part of a lung (pneumonectomy) took place. The first uses of radiotherapy came nearly a decade later, and then only for palliative purposes. Chemotherapy regimens came on the scene for lung cancer in the 1970s, and improvements have been made in radiotherapy to date.
Today, the prognosis remains grim for late-stage lung cancer sufferers. In most cases, the preferred method of treatment for localized disease is surgical removal of part or all of the affected lung, often with follow-up radiation or chemotherapy to reduce the chances of recurrence.
Cancer that has already spread to other parts of the body (metastasized) requires systemic treatments, such as chemo. Topical treatments are not likely to have much effect. Many late-stage incidences of lung cancer may not be treatable, except to reduce symptoms and make the sufferer as comfortable as possible while the disease runs its course.