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The history of chemotherapy goes back to ancient times. Most of the substances that were used to treat cancer were derived from plants. Scientists who have examined these ancient plant sources have found that some of them do indeed contain substances that have anticancer properties.

More recently in 1943 during World War II when Germans bombed an American munition and supply ship, the survivors who were pulled from the water smelt strongly of garlic (the characteristic odour of mustard gas). Many of these men died later from marrow failure due to the cytotoxic activity of the gas. An understanding that the action on cells might be useful in the treatment of cancer led to the discovery of a group of anticancer drugs known as ‘alkylating’ agents.
Platinum compounds were found to have a toxic effect on bacteria in 1965 when experiments on the effect of electrical currents on the growth of bacteria proved fruitless but the compound produced by the platinum electrode in combination with the growth medium had a major effect.

One of the first recorded cures with chemotherapy took place in the USA in 1956 when Min Chiu Li and Roy Hertz used methotrexate to treat a 24 year old woman suffering from widespread choriocarcinoma. She was discharged with no further traces of the disease just four months later.

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