Tumours and cancers in Graeco-Roman times

  • Francois P Retief
  • Louise Cilliers


In Graeco-Roman times all tumours (Greek: onkoi, abnormal swellings) were considered to be of inflammatory origin, the result of unfavourable hurnoural fluxes, and caused by an extravascular outpouring of fluid into tissue spaces. The neoplastic nature of tumours is a more recent concept, barely two centuries old. In Hippocratic literature tumours were mainly classified as karkin6mata, phumata, and oidemata. Phumata included a large variety of tumours, inflammatory and neoplastic in origin, and mostly benign (in modern terms), while oidemata were soft, painless tumours and even included generalised oedema (dropsy). Although all categories possibly included occasional cancers, the vast majority of what appears to have be~n malignant tumours were called karkinoi karkin6mata (Latin: cancrum/carcinoma). There was, however, no recognition of benign and malignant, primary and secondary tumours, in the modem sense.


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eISSN: 0256-95749
print ISSN: 2078-5135