History of Cancer Detection 1851-1995

1851 - Malignant Cells Found in Sputum

The first description of malignant cells in the sputum was reported by W.H. Washe. 1 Sputum tests are now performed to screen for lung cancer.

  • 1. Long, S.R. and Cohen, M.B. "Classics in Cytology VI: The Early Cytologic Discoveries of Lionel S. Beale." Diagnostic Cytopathology. 9 (1993): 595-598. [PUBMED]
1881 - Gastroscope Invented

The first gastroscope, an instrument inserted down the esophagus and used to view and detect cancer in the lower esophagus and stomach, was created by Jan Mikulicz-Radecki.1

  • 1. Kielan, W. et al. "Jan Mikulicz-Radecki: One of the Creators of World Surgery." Keio Journal of Medicine. 54 (2005): 1-7. [PUBMED]
1894 - Cytoscope Invented

The first cystoscope, an instrument that is inserted through the urethra and used to detect cancer of the bladder, was created by Maximilian Carl Friedrich Nitze. 1

  • 1. Reuter, M.A., and Reuter, H.J. "The Development of the Cystoscope." The Journal of Urology. 159 (1998): 638-640. [PUBMED]
1896 - X-Rays First Used to Detect Cancer

The newly discovered X-ray radiograph, or Roentgen picture (named after its discoverer, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen), was used by Franz Konig, a German surgeon to picture an amputated leg which was determined to contain a sarcoma of the tibia.12 The X-ray quickly became a tool for visualizing and diagnosing tumors inside the body. In 1901, Röntgen won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on X-rays.

  • 1. Glasser, Otto. Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen: The Early History of the Rontgen Rays. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas, 1934.
  • 2. Grigg, E. R. N. The Trail of the Invisible Light: From X-Strahlen to Radio(bio)logy. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas, 1965.
1897 - Bronchoscopy Was Introduced

Bronchoscopy was introduced by Gustav Killian when he removed a piece of pork bone from the bronchus of a farmer. Inspired by his report, Chevalier Jackson constructed the first bronchoscope soon after.12

  • 1. Zollner, Fritz. "Gustav Killian: Father of Bronchoscopy." Archives of Otolaryngology. 82 (1965): 656-659. [PUBMED]
  • 2. Boyd, A.D. "Chevalier Jackson: The Father of American Bronchoesophagoscopy." Annals of Thoracic Surgery. 57 (1994): 502-505. [PUBMED]
1902 - The First ECG Reading Was Taken

The first electrocardiogram (ECG) reading was taken by Willem Einthoven using a string galvanometer that he designed himself.1 ECGs can be used to diagnose renal cancer.

  • 1. Barold, S.S. "Willem Einthoven and the Birth of Clinical Electrocardiography a Hundred Years Ago." Cardiac Electrophysiology Review. 7 (2003): 99-104. [PUBMED]
1905 - Intravenous/Excretory Urography Developed

A primitive form of intravenous/excretory urography, a procedure used to visualize the upper urinary tract (by injection of contrast material) and diagnose cancer of the bladder, was developed by Fritz Voelcker and Alexander von Lichtenberg.1

  • 1. Skrepetis, K., et al. "Controversies About Discovery and Development of Excretory Urography." Journal of Pelvic Medicine & Surgery. 10 (2004): 71-80.
1924 - Colposcope Invented

The first colposcope, and instrument that is inserted into the vagina and used to view and detect cancer of the vagina and cervix, was created by Hans Peter Hinselmann.1

  • 1. Powell, J.L. "Biographic Sketch: Powells Pearls: Hans Peter Hinselmann, MD." Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey. 59 (2004): 693-695. [PUBMED]
1927 - First Arteriogram Performed

The first human arteriogram was performed by Egaz Moniz, who developed arteriography, in part, to localize cerebral tumors.1

  • 1. Grainger, R.G. and Veiga-Pires, J.A. Pioneers in Angiography: The Portuguese School of Angiography. Lancaster: MTP Press Limited, 1982.
1930 - X-Ray Breast Exams Introduced

The use of x-rays for diagnostic examination of the breast was introduced in by Stafford Warren. His technique involved the patient lying on her side with her arm raised and having the picture taken from the side.1

  • 1. Warren, S.L. "A Roentgenologic Study of the Breast." The American Journal of Roentgenology and Radium Therapy. 24 (1930): 113-124.
1941 - Pap Smear Introduced

The Pap smear was introduced as a method of diagnosing carcinomas in the female genital tract by George Papanicolaou.1

  • 1. Papanicolaou, G.N. and Traut, H.F. "The Diagnostic Value of Vaginal Smears in Carcinoma of the Uterus." American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 42 (1941): 193-206. [PUBMED]
1942 - Ultrasound Imaging First Used

Ultrasound imaging was used for the first time for medical diagnostics, specifically the identification of intracranial tumors, by Karl and Friederich Dussik. 1

  • 1. Shampo, M.A. and Kyle, R.A. "Karl Theodore DussikPioneer in Ultrasound." Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 70 (1995): 1136. [PUBMED]
1945 - Urinary Cytology Used

Urinary cytology, the examination of cells and other materials in urine, was used by George N. Papinicolaou and Victor F. Marshall to diagnose cancer of the bladder. 1

  • 1. Papinicolaou, G.N., and Marshall, V.F. "Urine Sediment Smears as a Diagnostic Procedure in Cancers of the Urinary Tract." Science. 101 (1945): 519-520. [PUBMED]
1951 - Mammogram Created

An early version of the mammogram, comprised of a cone and compression pad apparatus was created by Raul Leborgne to X-ray the breasts. In the paper reporting the device and its use on several patients, he recommends that "roentgen study should now be included in the diagnosis of mammary pathology." 1


  • 1. Leborgne, Raul. "Diagnosis of Tumors of the Breast by Simple Roentgenography." The American Journal of Roentgenology and Radium Therapy. 65 (1951): 1-11. [PUBMED]
1960 - Bone Scintigraphy Performed

Bone scintigraphy, or photoscanning of the bone with a radioactive isotope, using Sr was performed as a diagnostic test for spinal metastases by Gynning et al. 1

  • 1. Gynning, I. et al. "Localization With Sr85 of Spinal Metastases in Mammary Cancer and Changes in Uptake After Hormone and Roentgen Therapy: A Preliminary Report." Acta Radiologica. 55 (1961): 119-128.
1967 - The FOBT Developed

The Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT), which is used to screen for colorectal cancers, was developed by Dr. David Greegor.1

  • 1. Greegor, D.H. "Diagnosis of Large-Bowel Cancer in the Asymptomatic Patient." JAMA. 201 (1967):123-125. [PUBMED]
1968 - First ERCP Performed

The first endoscopic retrograde cholangio-pancreatography (ERCP), an endoscopic procedure used to diagnose cancer in the bile ducts and pancreas, was performed by Dr. William McCune. 1

  • 1. McCune, W.S. et al. "Endoscopic Cannulation of the Ampulla of Vater: A Preliminary Report." Reprinted in: Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. 34 (1988): 278-280. [PUBMED]
1969 - Retrograde Colonoscopy Administered

Retrograde colonoscopy of the entire colon was successfully administered by Dr. William Wolff and his associates.1

  • 1. Wolff, W.I. "Colonoscopy: History and Development." American Journal of Gastroenterology. 84 (1989): 1017-1025. [PUBMED]
1971 - Radioimmunoassay Created

A radioimmunoassay made to detect alpha-fetoprotein, a tumor marker often found in higher concentrations in those with liver and testicular cancer, was created for screening purposes by Ruoslahti and Seppala.1

  • 1. Ruoslahti, E. and Seppala M. "Studies of Carcino-Fetal Proteins: III. Development of a Radioimmunoassay for ±-Fetoprotein. Demonstration of ±-Fetoprotein in Serum of Healthy Human Adults." International Journal of Cancer. 8 (1971): 374-383. [PUBMED]
1972 - CT Scan Created

The computerized tomography (CT) scan was created by Godfrey Hounsfield. CT utilizes X-rays and computer assisted analysis to generate images that represent 'slices' or cross-sections through the target organ(s). CT scans are used to diagnose several different cancers. 1

1973 - MRI Developed

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which produces computerized images of the body that are used to diagnose several different cancers, was developed by Paul Lauterbur and Peter Mansfield. The imaging is based on the different signals obtained from different tissue types that are subjected to a high magnetic field. 12 In 2003 the developers won the Nobel prize in medicine for their work.3

  • 1. Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed 13-17 June. 2005 [http://www.eb.com]
  • 2. Schnall, M. and M. Rosen, Primer on imaging technologies for cancer. 2006 Jul 10;24(20):3225-33 [PUBMED]
  • 3. Rlederer, Stephen J. "MR Imaging: Its Development and the Recent Nobel Prize." Radiology. 231 (2004): 628-631. [PUBMED]
1974 - First Human PET Scanner Built

The first human positron emission tomography (PET) scanner, an instrument which creates high resolution computerized image which may be used to diagnose cancer, was built by Michael Phelps and Ed Hoffman. PET imaging is based on the detection of radiation that is released from chemicals introduced into the body. While CT and MRI give good images of anatomical structures they do not tell anything about the biological activity (i.e. cell growth) in the area. PET is able to give information about the biochemical activity of the observed structures. This allows for the discrimination between objects that are non-living such as a scar from a growing group of cells such as those in a tumor.1

  • 1. Walker, R.C., et al. "Introduction to PET Imaging With Emphasis on Biomedical Research." Neurotoxicology. 25 (2004): 533-542. [PUBMED]
1980 - PSA Detection

A sensitive enzyme immunoassay made to detect Prostate-specific  Antigen (PSA), a tumor marker that may be found in higher concentrations in the blood of those with prostate cancer, was created as a possible diagnostic method for prostate cancer by Kuriyama et al.1

  • 1. Kuriyama, M., et al. "Quantitation of Prostate-specific Antigen in Serum by a Sensitive Enzyme Immunoassay." Cancer Research. 40 (1980): 4568-4662.
1983 - CA-125 Detection

Robert Bast and his laboratory developed an immunoassay to detect the tumor marker CA-125. CA-125 is a glycoprotein that can be detected in the serum of human blood.1 The test assists in the diagnosis of some types of ovarian cancers and is also used to follow up on them.


  • 1. Bast, R.C., et al. "A Radioimmunoassay Using a Monoclonal Antibody to Monitor the Course of Epithelial Ovarian Cancer." New England Journal of Medicine. 309 (1983): 883-887. [PUBMED]
1988 - Detection of HPV

Detection of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) DNA in cervical cells as a screening tool for cervical cancer was introduced by Ritter et al.1

  • 1. Ritter, D.B., et al. "Detection of Human Papillomavirus Deoxyribonucleic Acid in Exfoliated Cervicovaginal Cells as a Predictor of Cervical Neoplasia in a High-Risk Population." American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 159 (1988): 1517-1525. [PUBMED]
1993 - Sonohysterography Developed

Sonohysterography, a radioimaging method that is used in diagnosis of cancer of the endometrium and uterus, was developed by Drs. Parsons and Lense. In this technique, fluid is used to expand the uterus and an ultrasound probe is inserted into the vagina1

  • 1. Parsons, A.K. and Lense, J.J. "Sonohysterography for Endometrial Abnormalities: Preliminary Results." Journal of Clinical Ultrasound. 21 (1993): 87-95. [PUBMED]