The earliest known descriptions of cancer appear in several papyri from Ancient Egypt. The Edwin Smith Papyrus was written around 1600 BC (possibly a fragmentary copy of a text from 2500 BC) and contains a description of cancer, as well as a procedure to remove breast tumours by cauterization. It wryly observed that the disease has no treatment.
Hippocrates (ca. 460 BC – ca. 370 BC) described several kinds of cancer, referring to them by the term karkinos (carcinos), the Greek word for crab or crayfish, as well as carcinoma.This comes from the appearance of the cut surface of a solid malignant tumour, with "the veins stretched on all sides as the animal the crab has its feet, whence it derives its name".Since it was against Greek tradition to open the body, Hippocrates only described and made drawings of outwardly visible tumors on the skin, nose, and breasts. Treatment was based on the humor theory of four bodily fluids (black and yellow bile, blood, and phlegm). According to the patient's humor, treatment consisted of diet, blood-letting, and/or laxatives. Celsus (ca. 25 BC - 50 AD) translated karkinos into cancer, the Latin word for crab or crayfish.
In the 2nd century AD, the Greek physician Galen used oncos (Greek for swelling) to describe all tumours, reserving Hippocrates' term carcinos for malignant tumours. Galen also used the suffix -oma to indicate cancerous lesions. It is from Galen's usage that we derive the modern word oncology.
Through the centuries it was discovered that cancer could occur anywhere in the body, but Hippocrates' humor-theory based treatment remained popular until the 19th century with the discovery of cells.