Cancer is an ancient disease. Theories and discoveries about cancer have evolved for centuries. Cancer -- including lung cancer -- was not discovered and named by one person. Two men, however -- Sir Richard Doll and Austin Hill -- are credited with discovering the link between smoking and lung cancer.
Discovery of Cancer
Cancer has a long history. It was known to the ancient Egyptians, who blamed the gods, and to the Romans, who blamed it on an imbalance of bodily fluids. This theory lasted for centuries. In fact, 18th-century scientists still believed that tumors were caused by unhealthy variations in a person's lymph fluids. It wasn't until the 19th century, when autopsies started to be performed on a regular basis and microscopes were used, that scientists could see that tumors were composed of cells. A German pathologist named Johannes Muller is credited with making this discovery in 1838.
Rise of Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women, according to the American Cancer Society, but this was not always the case. Before the advent of smoking it was very rare to find cancer in the lungs. In fact, in 1878, only 1 percent of autopsies performed at the Institute of Pathology of the University of Dresden in Germany found cancers in the lungs. Almost 40 years later, that number had risen to 14 percent. By the end of World War II, the number of men and women smoking cigarettes was at an all-time high -- and so were the rates of lung cancer.
The Link to Smoking
One of the first to postulate a link between smoking and lung cancer was a German doctor named Fritz Lickint. In 1929, he published a paper stating that most of his patients with lung cancer were heavy smokers, and he started an anti-smoking crusade in Germany. But it wasn't until 1950 that a definite link was shown. An article written by Sir Richard Doll and Austin Hill and published by the "British Medical Journal" confirmed that cigarette smoking caused lung cancer. Although some controversy remained, peer studies were able to replicate Doll and Austin's results, and in 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General published a formal warning that stated that smoking was harmful to health and should be avoided. Since then, smoking rates have gone down in the United States and other parts of the world.
Lung Cancer Today
In 2013, almost 159,500 people died from lung cancer. And although the link between lung cancer and smoking is well known, what is not as well known is that many nonsmokers also get lung cancer. Women have a higher risk than men of developing lung cancer: 1 in 13, while men have a 1 in 16 chance. Smoking increases the risk, however. Men who smoke are 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer than men who don't smoke. Interestingly, although women are more likely to develop lung cancer than men, women smokers are only 13 times more likely to develop lung cancer than their nonsmoking counterparts, according to the American Lung Association. The earlier lung cancer is caught, the better chance of a cure.
- American Cancer Society: What Are the Key Statistics About Lung Cancer?
- American Cancer Society: Cancer Causes -- Theories Throughout History
- Oxford Journals: Toxicological Sciences -- A Short History of Lung Cancer
- ATS Journals: American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine -- One Hundred Years of Lung Cancer
- American Lung Association: Lung Cancer Fact Sheet
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