The blog of Xeno, a slightly mad scientist
Cancer is a man-made disease fuelled by the excesses of modern life, a study of ancient remains has found.
Tumours were rare until recent times when pollution and poor diet became issues, the review of mummies, fossils and classical literature found.
A greater understanding of its origins could lead to treatments for the disease, which claims more than 150,000 lives a year in the UK.
Michael Zimmerman, a visiting professor at Manchester University, said: ‘In an ancient society lacking surgical intervention, evidence of cancer should remain in all cases.
‘The virtual absence of malignancies in mummies must be interpreted as indicating their rarity in antiquity, indicating that cancer-causing factors are limited to societies affected by modern industrialisation.’
To trace cancer’s roots, Professor Zimmerman and colleague Rosalie David analysed possible references to the disease in classical literature and scrutinised signs in the fossil record and in mummified bodies.
Despite slivers of tissue from hundreds of Egyptian mummies being rehydrated and placed under the microscope, only one case of cancer has been confirmed.
This is despite experiments showing that tumours should be even better preserved by mummification than healthy tissues.
Dismissing the argument that the ancient Egyptians didn’t live long enough to develop cancer, the researchers pointed out that other age-related disease such as hardening of the arteries and brittle bones died occur.
Fossil evidence of cancer is also sparse, with scientific literature providing a few dozen, mostly disputed, examples in animal fossil, the journal Nature Reviews Cancer reports.
Even the study of thousands of Neanderthal bones has provided only one example of a possible cancer.
Evidence of cancer in ancient Egyptian texts is also ‘tenuous’ with cancer-like problems more likely to have been caused by leprosy or even varicose veins.
The ancient Greeks were probably the first to define cancer as a specific disease and to distinguish between benign and malignant tumours.
But Manchester professors said it was unclear if this signalled a real rise in the disease, or just a greater medical knowledge.
The 17th century provides the first descriptions of operations for breast and other cancers.
And the first reports in scientific literature of distinctive tumours only occurred in the past 200 years or so, including scrotal ca
Wait, I thought cancer is something that is built in to our genetics and that it has been around forever. Isn’t it present in other species? Perhaps the ancient Egyptians were more medically advanced and they actually cured cancer, which is why no mummies have it. ;-)