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Types of Cancer
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Causes of Cancer
Chemotherapy, in its most general sense, refers to treatment of disease by chemicals that kill cells, specifically those of micro-organisms or cancer. In popular usage, it usually refers to antineoplastic drugs used to treat cancer or the combination of these drugs into a standardized treatment regimen.
In its non-oncological use, the term may also refer to antibiotics (antibacterial chemotherapy). In that sense, the first modern chemotherapeutic agent was Paul Ehrlich's arsphenamine, an arsenic compound discovered in 1909 and used to treat syphilis. This was later followed by sulfonamides discovered by Domagk and penicillin discovered by Alexander Fleming.
Other uses of cytostatic chemotherapy agents (including the ones mentioned below) are the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis and the suppression of transplant rejections (see immunosuppression and DMARDs).
The use of chemical substances and drugs as medication dates back to the ancient Indian system of medicine called Ayurveda which uses many metals besides herbs for treatment of a large number of ailments. More recently, Persian physician, Muhammad ibn Zakari-ya Ra-zi (Rhazes), in the 10th century, introduced the use of chemicals such as vitriol, copper, mercuric and arsenic salts, sal ammoniac, gold scoria, chalk, clay, coral, pearl, tar, bitumen and alcohol for medical purposes.
The first drug used for cancer chemotherapy, however, dates back to the early 20th century, though it was not originally intended for that purpose. Mustard gas was used as a chemical warfare agent during World War I and was studied further during World War II. During a military operation in World War II, a group of people were accidentally exposed to mustard gas and were later found to have very low white blood cell counts.
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