An ancient example of human cancer
LONDON - British archaeologists have found what they say is the world's oldest complete example of a human being with metastatic cancer and hope it will offer new clues about the now common and often fatal disease.
Researchers from Durham University and the British Museum discovered the evidence of tumors that had developed and spread throughout the body in a 3,000-year-old skeleton - of a male believed to be 25 to 35 - found in a tomb in modern Sudan in 2013.
Analyzing the skeleton using radiography and a scanning electron microscope, they managed to get clear imaging of lesions on the bones which showed the cancer had spread to cause tumors on the collar bones, shoulder blades, upper arms, vertebrae, ribs, pelvis, and thigh bones.
"Insights gained from archaeological human remains like these can really help us to understand the evolution and history of modern diseases," said Michaela Binder, a Durham doctoral student who led the research and excavated and examined the skeleton.
"Our analysis showed that the shape of the small lesions on the bones can only have been caused by a soft tissue cancer . . . though the exact origin is impossible to determine through the bones alone."
Despite being one of the world's leading causes of death today, cancer is virtually absent in archaeological records compared with other diseases. That has given rise to the idea that cancers are mainly attributable to modern lifestyles and longer life spans.