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The history of cancer dates back to early Greek and Roman writings, which included descriptions of the disease. It is clear that cancer affects all of the world's populations and has been the subject of intense medical investigations. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 1 million people in the United States are diagnosed with cancer each year. Cancer ranks second only to heart disease as the leading cause of death.

Developments in the late 20th century, such as improvements in cancer treatment and early detection, have advanced the discipline of oncology and led to further studies. In the 1950s, minor success with cytotoxic chemotherapy initiated active research to develop anticancer agents. Although most useful drugs have side effects, oncologists continue to conduct studies to find better treatments. Some forms of cancer today have become manageable, if not curable, if the symptoms are recognized and treated early. Increased public awareness of the positive effects of a healthy diet and exercise as well as the harmful effects of smoking and excessive drinking has helped lower the risk of developing many types of cancer. Many believe that cancer will someday become a largely preventable—or at least manageable—disease.

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