Oncology in Lithuania has a 400-year-long history. It dates back to the foundation of Vilnius University. In 1592 the first oncological hospital for cancer patients was opened due to the efforts of Petras Skarga, Rector of Vilnius University.
In 1779, the first F. Ochme’s article on treatment of breast cancer was published in Vilnius. This was the first publication on cancer treatment in this country.
Later on, early in the 19th century, the Medical Faculty of Vilnius University issued more research papers on etiopathogenesis and treatment of cancer of different locations (O. Niechviedovich, A. Savickis, F. Vrublevski, K. Porcijanka).
In the 19th century, oncologists of Vilnius University were already quite famous in Europe. Due to their efforts oncology in Lithuania was developed into a separate and independent discipline.
On 23 April 1931, the Head of the Department of General and Experimental Pathology of Vilnius University Prof. K. Pelčaras took the initiative in organising the first meeting of the Committee Against Cancer. The meet put forward the ideal of establishing a Society Against Cancer. The most celebrated professors of Vilnius University and clinical practitioners were elected to be the 22 members of the Committee (with 7 of them comprising the executive board). The Committee agreed upon its statute and outlined the trends: coordination of clinical and research activities, cancer registry, development of hygienic education in Vilnius and its suburbs.
Half a year later, on 1 December 1931, a hospital and an institute for cancer patients were opened in Vilnius (Polocko st. 6). The hospital had 12 beds and an out-patient department, a laboratory and administrative board, and it mainly treated patients with an advanced cancer. Here research activities were also carried out, including investigations of the blood serum of cancer patients and of the problems of biological evolution of cancer.
Upon purchasing the first reotgenotherapic equipment in 1933, a special room for reontgenotherapy was opened. The Department of Pathologoanatomy was also founded. The first 33mg of radioactive radium were obtained in 1937.
On 15 April 1934, according to a decision of the Committee Against Cancer, the Institute was officially called Vilnius Anti-cancer Research-Clinical Institute. It functioned up to 1941.
Vilnius Oncological Hospital was reopened on 16 July 1944 in Vilnius, Pylimo st. 46 (in former Jewish ghetto premises), which in 1 October 1945, was reorganised into the National Oncological Hospital. It comprised an outpatient department, a clinical department with 40 beds, roentgenological, radium therapic and roentgenodiagnostic rooms and clinical laboratories.
Since 21 November 1945, the Institute of the National Academy of Sciences started functioning as the Institute of Experimental Medicine and Oncology. Its founder, scientific leader and manager was Prof. V. Girdzijauskas. There was an oncological division at the Institute, headed by Prof. K. Pelčaras‘ pupil Dr. M. Kučarovas. After his death, up to the year1957, it functioned under the supervision of Associate Professor J.Rimšelis.
The main institution of clinical oncology, the National Oncological Hospital, commenced an active treatment of cancer patients. A department of surgery was established with an operating theater. Stomach resection, mastectomy, lower lip resection were introduced. Also chemotherapy with embichin and therapy with radioactive radium were widely applied.
In 1954, the reconstructed equipment for low-voltage superficial roentgenotherapy was applied in the treatment of cancer patients. After a year gamma radiation therapy with the Gut-Co60 apparatus was started.
On 1 March 1957, the independent Oncological Research Institute was founded on the basis of the National Oncological Hospital.
The Oncological Research Institute was engaged in searching for new antitumour compounds and determining their antitumour activity, treatment of malignant tumours and early diagnostics.
The year 1975 was very significant for oncological service in Lithuania. Up to this time the management of cancer was conducted by focusing on two trends. Multimodality treatment, cancer prevention and partly the administrative function were carried out by the national oncological hospitals, while the Oncological Research Institute focused on scientific research. In 1975, the National Oncological Hospital and Oncological Research Institute were joined to initiate one institution involved in scientific research, medical management and care. The new institute consisted of two large departments: experimental and clinical oncology. Apart from these there were independent divisions of medical information, cancer epidemiology, experimental animals, as well as coordinative-administrative and technical sectors. The Institute since its foundation was headed by Prof. A. Telyčėnas.
Prof. A. Telyčėnas was the prive mover in extending the Institute and building its new quaters, which were completed in 1979 in Vilnius Santariškės region. 15 new special departments, such as various clinical, experimental and diagnostic, were established there. A new outpatient clinic as well as different special wards and operating theaters were opened. The new Clinic could provide treatment for 450 patients. In the same year a 200 bed clinic was opened in Polocko street.
In 1982, the supervision of the Oncological Research Institute was taken over by Prof. L. Griciūtė. The clinic then acquired independence and was called the Clinic affiliated to the Oncological Research Institute. The Clinic treated patients with malignant tumours of different locations (except brain, eye tumours and leukaemias). The number of beds in the Clinic increased up to 520.
In 1982-1990, the research work of the Institute was focused on cancer epidemiology- a study of determinant factors and the systematic observation of the incidence of cancer in society, with the aim of improving the diagnostics and complex therapeutic programmes, as well as synthesis of new antitumour and anticarcinogenic compounds and their experimental clinical trials.
Scientists took an active part in complex national programmes of studying the relative incidence of major cancer forms in different industrial regions of Lithuania as well as investigating environmental pollution with chemical carcinogens. They compiled a map of the distribution of carcinogenic substances in Lithuania.
Registration of malignant tumours in this country started in 1957. However, only in 1984 the Lithuanian Cancer Registry was established at the Oncological Research Institute by the Order of the Minister of Health.
In 1986, the Specialized Scientific Board commenced its functions. Up to 1990 over 30 theses were defended, and the degree of candidate of medical sciences was conferred to practitioners and research specialists working in the sphere of oncology, medical radiology and roentgenology. Fourteen of them were physicians and scientists of the Oncological Research Institute and the affiliated Clinic.
Cooperation with many foreign and national research institutions was carried out, namely, with the International Agency for Cancer Research in Lyon, Berlin Central Oncological Institute, Magdeburg and Poznan Medical Academies, Institute of Organic Synthesis of Latvia, Kaunas Medical Academy and Vilnius University.
On 2 October 1990, in order to improve supervision of oncological service in Lithuania, the Oncological Research Institute and Clinics were incorporated into the Lithuanian Oncology Center. Among the main objectives of the center were:
- scientific research activities;
- complex diagnostics of malignant tumours;
- treatment of cancer patients;
- record of cancer patients;
- education of students and practitioners;
- improvement of skills of medical doctors.
The Lithuanian Oncology Center is headed by Prof. Konstantinas Povilas Valuckas, M.D., Ph.D.
On 4 January 1995 the Lithuanian Oncology Center was entitled the status of a state scientific institution. The main trends of scientific research of the Lithuanian Oncology center are: development of cancer prevention, search for new scientific cancer diagnostic and treatment methods, elaboration of a rehabilitation programme for cancer patients.
Performing scientific research activities in epidemiology and cancer prevention, special works were directed towards epidemiological studies in the zone of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant. Specialists participated in the international study “Research in children’s hemoblastosis incidence after the accident at the nuclear Plant in Chernobil”.
The studies dealt with response of the immune system of the organism to pollution of dwelling areas by industrial wastes and engine exhaust gases. In experiments with animals, potential anticarcinogenic compounds, such as low molecular mass peptides and original organic compounds of selenium were studied.
In different regions of Lithuania preparatory works started in order to implement the programme of selective examination of citizen for cervix uteri pathology and breast cancer.
By using modern immunohistochemical, flow cytometry and some of molecular biology methods, investigation of the biologic markers of human tumours were started. These markers are important for early diagnostics and prognosis of cancer.
To improve tumour diagnostics, the method of computer tomography was implemented. Besides, schemes of complex examination of patients, for different diagnostics of tumours of certain locations were created. The schemes include computerized correction of the radiographic image. Videolaparoscopy has been implemented for verification of the diagnosis of ovarian cancer and for selection of adequate treatment. Biopsy controlled by ultrasound was introduced for the diagnosis of thyroid, breast, kidney and other tumours. New ways of treatment, such as photodynamic tumour therapy and contact radial therapy of Cf 252 neutrons were also introduced at the Clinic. In the sphere of rehabilitation of cancer patients, methodologies related to voice restitution after larynx surgery were introduced, reconstructive breast operations are carried out, preparation of a programme of rehabilitation of cancer patients has been started.
Two national programmes, “Prevention of oncological diseases” and “Laser photosensibilisation in cancer therapy”, were under implementation at the Lithuanian Oncology Center. The latter was implemented together with Vilnius University, Kaunas Technological University and Institute of Biochemistry. The first programme was supported by the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Lithuania, and the second by the Lithuanian State Science and Studies Foundation. Specialists of the Lithuanian Oncology Center participated in the international EURAQA and EROPAQ (radiotherapy quality) programmes, as well as in the projects supported by WHO, TATENA and International Cancer Research Center (Lyon, France).
The scientific research activities at the Lithuanian Oncology Center were carried out by 91 scientists, among them 9 habilitated doctors professors, 45 medical doctors and doctors of natural sciences.
During the period 1990-2001, scientists of the Center published 8 monographs and 18 collections of scientific works. They organized 11 international and 10 national events and 2 conferences with the oncologists of the Baltic States. During 1990-2001, 5 habilitation theses, 15 theses for doctor’s degree were defended; 3 scientists were awarded the name of professor and 4 the name of associate professor. During the above period 819 scientific works were prepared and published, of them 411 in the reference journals.
Specialists of the Lithuanian Oncology Center participated in training courses organized for students and residents of Medical Faculty of Vilnius University and in the qualification courses for physicians. During this process they have prepared a manual of oncology for students-physicians of higher schools, the training tool on diagnostics and treatment of cancer, as well as 16 methodical educational works.
The Lithuanian Oncology Center performs a great volume of clinical activities: the number of visits to the counseling out-patient clinic is increasing yearly (from 54,000 1995 to 80,000 in 2000). Cancer was diagnosed to the majority of patients (48%), they received relevant treatment. Each year the in-patient clinic provides treatment to about 12,000 patients with various benign and malignant tumours of different locations and with premalignant conditions. About 5500 operations are carried out yearly, 2500 patients receive irradiations (about 70,000 – radiotherapeutical procedures). Chemotherapy is prescribed to about 2500 patients. The specialists of the Oncology Center are experienced and highly qualified. They are well acquainted with the modern methods of treatment of cancer patients (oncosurgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormonotherapy and immunotherapy). Physicians of the Center have improved their theoretical knowledge and practical skills in the major oncological clinics of the world, they participated and delivered reports at the conferences and congresses worldwide.
Since 1992, the Lithuanian Oncology Center started to use the Hospital Registry, which accumulates data on all patients treated in the in-patient clinic of the Center. These data enable a statistical and economic analysis of the activities of the Center.
The Lithuanian Cancer Registry is also taking part in the activities of oncological service. It accumulates data on all malignant tumours registered in Lithuania. These data enable to analyse the oncological situation (incidence of tumours, malignant tumours, mortality, evaluation of life duration of oncological patients, etc.) and to submit proposals on how to improve the situation. It also helps to evaluate the efficiency of treatment, to carry out epidemiologic and other scientific research.
On 12 March 2002, by Decree of the Lithuanian Government, the Public Research Institution Lithuanian Oncology Center was reorganized into Institute of Oncology with the Clinic of Vilnius University.
In 2014 Institute of Oncology of Vilnius University was renamed to National Cancer Institute.
Current works of the National Cancer Institute are described in other sections of the website.