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Oldest example of cancer found in 3,200-year-old skeleton

Oldest example of cancer found in 3,200-year-old skeleton

Archaeologists have discovered that the ancient remains of a man found last year in a tomb in Sudan on the banks of the River Nile had a spreading form of cancer, the oldest example so far of the disease .

The skeleton was found in Amara West, 750 kilometres downstream from the Sudanese capital Khartoum. The man was buried on his back in a painted wooden coffin with a glazed amulet. However, his remains have only just been analysed, revealing that the bones of the 25- to 35-year-old man showed evidence of metastatic carcinoma, a malignant soft-tumour cancer. Tests using radiography and a scanning electron microscope provided clear imaging of the lesions on the bones, with cancer metastases on the collar bones, shoulder blades, upper arms, vertebrae, ribs, pelvis and thigh bones.

Although it is not clear whether the man died from the cancer or from another cause, such diseases are incredibly rare in an individual that lived over three millennia ago, as it is normally associated with the modern lifestyle.

The research team from Durham University and the British Museum said that although cancer is currently one of the world's leading causes of death, it has been virtually absent from archaeological finds, leading to the conclusion that it is "mainly a product of modern living and increased longevity". Until now, there had only been one example of metastatic cancer predating the 1 st millennium BC in human remains.

Michaela Binder, the researcher from Durham University in England who made the discovery, said that it is impossible to determine the exact site where the disease originated, but that the cause may have been environmental, for example from carcinogens from wood fire smoke, genetic or from the parasite schistosomiasis, which still causes cancer to this day in the area.

The researchers hope that the discovery may help shed light on the almost unknown history of the disease. Ms Binder explained that "Insights gained from archaeological human remains like these can really help us to understand the evolution and history of modern diseases.

Featured image: Michaela Binder from Durham University inspecting the remains. Photo source .


    Archaeologists discover earliest complete example of a human with cancer, from 3,000 years ago

    Archaeologists have found the oldest complete example in the world of a human with metastatic cancer in a 3,000 year-old skeleton.

    The findings are reported in the academic journal PLOS ONE today (17 March).

    The skeleton of the young adult male was found by a Durham University PhD student in a tomb in modern Sudan in 2013 and dates back to 1200BC.

    Analysis has revealed evidence of metastatic carcinoma, cancer which has spread to other parts of the body from where it started, from a malignant soft-tissue tumour spread across large areas of the body, making it the oldest convincing complete example of metastatic cancer in the archaeological record.

    The researchers from Durham University and the British Museum say the discovery will help to explore underlying causes of cancer in ancient populations and provide insights into the evolution of cancer in the past. Ancient DNA analysis of skeletons and mummies with evidence of cancer can be used to detect mutations in specific genes that are known to be associated with particular types of cancer.

    Even though cancer is one of the world's leading causes of death today, it remains almost absent from the archaeological record compared to other pathological conditions, giving rise to the conclusion that the disease is mainly a product of modern living and increased longevity. These findings suggest that cancer is not only a modern disease but was already present in the Nile Valley in ancient times.

    Lead author, Michaela Binder, a PhD student in the Department of Archaeology at Durham University, excavated and examined the skeleton. She said: "Very little is known about the antiquity, epidemiology and evolution of cancer in past human populations apart from some textual references and a small number of skeletons with signs of cancer.

    "Insights gained from archaeological human remains like these can really help us to understand the evolution and history of modern diseases.

    "Our analysis showed that the shape of the small lesions on the bones can only have been caused by a soft tissue cancer even though the exact origin is impossible to determine through the bones alone."

    The skeleton is of an adult male estimated to be between 25-35 years old when he died and was found at the archaeological site of Amara West in northern Sudan, situated on the Nile, 750km downstream of the country's modern capital Khartoum. It was buried extended on his back, within a badly deteriorated painted wooden coffin, and provided with a glazed faience amulet as a grave good.

    Previously, there has only been one convincing, and two tentative, examples of metastatic cancer predating the 1st millennium BC reported in human remains. However, because the remains derived from early 20th century excavations, only the skulls were retained, thus making a full re-analysis of each skeleton, to generate differential (possible) diagnoses, impossible.

    Co-author, Dr Neal Spencer from the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum, said: "From footprints left on wet mud floors, to the healed fractures of many ancient inhabitants, Amara West offers a unique insight into what it was like to live there -- and die -- in Egyptian-ruled Upper Nubia 3200 years ago."

    The skeleton was examined by experts at Durham University and the British Museum using radiography and a scanning electron microscope (SEM) which resulted in clear imaging of the lesions on the bones. It showed cancer metastases on the collar bones, shoulder blades, upper arms, vertebrae, ribs, pelvis and thigh bones.

    The cause of the cancer can only be speculative but the researchers say it could be as a result of environmental carcinogens such as smoke from wood fires, through genetic factors, or from infectious diseases such as schistosomiasis which is caused by parasites.

    They say that an underlying schistosomiasis infection seems a plausible explanation for the cancer in this individual as the disease had plagued inhabitants of Egypt and Nubia since at least 1500BC, and is now recognised as a cause of bladder cancer and breast cancer in men.

    Michaela Binder added: "Through taking an evolutionary approach to cancer, information from ancient human remains may prove a vital element in finding ways to address one of the world's major health problems."

    The tomb, where the skeleton was found, appears to have been used for high-status individuals from the town, but not the ruling elite, based on the tomb architecture and aspects of funerary ritual.

    The tomb's architecture is evidence of a hybrid culture blending Pharaonic elements (burial goods, painted coffins) with Nubian culture (a low mound to mark the tomb).

    The well preserved pottery recovered from the tomb provides a date within the 20th Dynasty (1187-1064BC), a period when Egypt ruled Upper Nubia, endured conflicts with Libya and while pharaohs such as Ramses III were being buried in the Valley of the Kings.


    Sudan Skeleton From 1200BC is Oldest Example of Human with Metastatic Cancer

    A skeleton discovered in an ancient tomb in Sudan has become the oldest complete example of a human with metastatic cancer.

    Archaeologists discovered the skeleton of a young adult male inside a tomb dating back to 1200BC.

    The researchers, from Durham University and the British Museum, analysed the 3,000-year-old skeleton and found evidence of metastatic carcinoma – a cancer that had spread from one area to other parts of the body. The tumour had spread across large areas of his body.

    Published in the journal PLoS ONE, the scientists say this is the oldest complete example of a spreading cancer ever discovered.

    They believe the finding will help them understand the underlying causes of cancer in ancient populations and provide an insight into how the disease evolved.

    Despite being one of the deadliest diseases of modern times, how cancer developed historically remains a mystery. Because of a distinct lack of archaeological evidence, it is though it is largely a man-made disease that developed as a result of modern living and increased lifespans.

    The Sudanese skeleton suggests that cancer is not just a modern disease, but was present in ancient societies living in the Nile Valley.

    The male skeleton was estimated to have been between 25 and 35 years old.

    It was found at the site of Amara West in northern Sudan, around 750km from the capital Khartoum.

    The skeleton came from a body originally buried on its back in a tomb that appears to have been used by high-status individuals, but not the ruling elite.

    Lytic lesion in the spinous process of the 5th thoracic vertebra Durham University

    Lead author Michaela Binder said: "Very little is known about the antiquity, epidemiology and evolution of cancer in past human populations apart from some textual references and a small number of skeletons with signs of cancer.

    "Insights gained from archaeological human remains like these can really help us to understand the evolution and history of modern diseases.

    "Our analysis showed that the shape of the small lesions on the bones can only have been caused by a soft tissue cancer even though the exact origin is impossible to determine through the bones alone."

    Previously, there had only been one convincing metastatic cancer case discovered before the first millennium BC.

    Researchers believe the man's cancer could have been the result of environmental carcinogens, such as smoke from wood fires, a genetic factor, or from an infectious disease caused by parasites, the latter of which is most likely.

    The disease schistosomiasis – caused by parasitic worms – has plagued people living in Egypt and Nubia since at least 1500BC and has been identified as a cause of bladder and breast cancer in men.

    Binder said: "Through taking an evolutionary approach to cancer, information from ancient human remains may prove a vital element in finding ways to address one of the world's major health problems."


    This 3,000-Year-Old Human Skeleton Reveals the Earliest Known Example of Cancer

    Researchers from Durham University and the British Museum just announced what they think is the earliest evidence of metastatic cancer in a human, Reuters reports. They reached this conclusion after finding cancerous growths within the bones of a 3,000-year-old skeleton uncovered in Sudan. Here's Reuters with more about the finding: 

    The skeleton is of an adult male estimated to be between 25- and 35-years-old when he died. It was found at the archaeological site of Amara West in northern Sudan, on the Nile, 750 km downstream from the capital Khartoum.

    Analysing 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 tumours on the collar bones, shoulder blades, upper arms, vertebrae, ribs, pelvis and thigh bones. 

    Cancer is a surprisingly rare find for archeologists, Reuters continues, and due to the absence of that evidence, some researchers have wondered whether cancer might be a more modern disease. This new evidence shows that cancer did in fact occur far back into the past. As the lead author of the study told the Independent, this new finding "allows us to explore possible underlying causes of cancer in ancient populations, before the onset of modernity, and it could provide important new insights into the evolution of cancer in the past.”

    The underlying cause of the young man's cancer remains a matter of speculation, although the researchers told Reuters it could have had environmental origins, including too much exposure to campfire smoke or a heavy infection with the schistosomiasis-causing parasite, which today is known to sometimes trigger cancer. 


    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, wryly stating that the disease has no treatment. [1] However, incidents of cancer were rare. In a study by the University of Manchester, only one case was found "in the investigation of hundreds of Egyptian mummies, with few references to cancer in literary evidence." [2]

    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. [3] 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". [4] 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. [5]

    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.

    In the 16th and 17th centuries, it became more acceptable for doctors to dissect bodies to discover the cause of death. The German professor Wilhelm Fabry believed that breast cancer was caused by a milk clot in a mammary duct. The Dutch professor Francois de la Boe Sylvius, a follower of Descartes, believed that all disease was the outcome of chemical processes, and that acidic lymph fluid was the cause of cancer. His contemporary Nicolaes Tulp believed that cancer was a poison that slowly spreads, and concluded that it was contagious. [6]

    The first cause of cancer was identified by British surgeon Percivall Pott, who discovered in 1775 that cancer of the scrotum was a common disease among chimney sweeps. The work of other individual physicians led to various insights, but when physicians started working together they could draw firmer conclusions.

    With the widespread use of the microscope in the 18th century, it was discovered that the 'cancer poison' eventually spreads from the primary tumor through the lymph nodes to other sites ("metastasis"). This view of the disease was first formulated by the English surgeon Campbell De Morgan between 1871 and 1874. [7] The use of surgery to treat cancer had poor results due to problems with hygiene. The renowned Scottish surgeon Alexander Monro saw only 2 breast tumor patients out of 60 surviving surgery for two years. In the 19th century, asepsis improved surgical hygiene and as the survival statistics went up, surgical removal of the tumor became the primary treatment for cancer. With the exception of William Coley who in the late 19th century felt that the rate of cure after surgery had been higher before asepsis (and who injected bacteria into tumors with mixed results), cancer treatment became dependent on the individual art of the surgeon at removing a tumor. The underlying cause of his results might be that infection stimulates the immune system to destroy left tumor cells. During the same period, the idea that the body was made up of various tissues, that in turn were made up of millions of cells, laid rest the humor-theories about chemical imbalances in the body.

    The genetic basis of cancer was recognised in 1902 by the German zoologist Theodor Boveri, professor of zoology at Munich and later in Würzburg. [8] He discovered a method to generate cells with multiple copies of the centrosome, a structure he discovered and named. He postulated that chromosomes were distinct and transmitted different inheritance factors. He suggested that mutations of the chromosomes could generate a cell with unlimited growth potential which could be passed on to its descendants. He proposed the existence of cell cycle checkpoints, tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes. He speculated that cancers might be caused or promoted by radiation, physical or chemical insults, or by pathogenic microorganisms.

    When Marie Curie and Pierre Curie discovered radiation at the end of the 19th century, they stumbled upon the first effective non-surgical cancer treatment. With radiation also came the first signs of multi-disciplinary approaches to cancer treatment. The surgeon was no longer operating in isolation but worked together with hospital radiologists to help patients. The complications in communication this brought, along with the necessity of the patient's treatment in a hospital facility rather than at home, also created a parallel process of compiling patient data into hospital files, which in turn led to the first statistical patient studies.

    The American Cancer Society was founded in 1913 by 15 physicians and businessmen in New York City under the name American Society for the Control of Cancer (ASCC). The current name was adopted in 1945. [9]

    A founding paper of cancer epidemiology was the work of Janet Lane-Claypon, who published a comparative study in 1926 of 500 breast cancer cases and 500 control patients of the same background and lifestyle for the British Ministry of Health. Her groundbreaking work on cancer epidemiology was carried on by Richard Doll and Austin Bradford Hill, who published "Lung Cancer and Other Causes of Death In Relation to Smoking. A Second Report on the Mortality of British Doctors" followed in 1956 (otherwise known as the British doctors study). Richard Doll left the London Medical Research Center (MRC), to start the Oxford unit for Cancer epidemiology in 1968. With the use of computers, the unit was the first to compile large amounts of cancer data. Modern epidemiological methods are closely linked to current [ when? ] concepts of disease and public health policy. Over the past 50 years, great efforts have been spent on gathering data across medical practice, hospital, provincial, state, and even country boundaries to study the interdependence of environmental and cultural factors on cancer incidence.

    Cancer patient treatment and studies were restricted to individual physicians' practices until World War II when medical research centers discovered that there were large international differences in disease incidence. This insight drove national public health bodies to enable the compilation of health data across practices and hospitals, a process found in many countries today. The Japanese medical community observed that the bone marrow of victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was completely destroyed. They concluded that diseased bone marrow could also be destroyed with radiation, and this led to the development of bone marrow transplants for leukemia. Since World War II, trends in cancer treatment are to improve on a micro-level the existing treatment methods, standardize them, and globalize them to find cures through epidemiology and international partnerships.

    The political 'war' on cancer began with the National Cancer Act of 1971, a United States federal law. [11] The act was intended "to amend the Public Health Service Act so as to strengthen the National Cancer Institute in order to more effectively carry out the national effort against cancer". It was signed into law by then U.S. President Richard Nixon on December 23, 1971. [12]

    In 1973, cancer research led to a cold war incident, [13] where co-operative samples of reported oncoviruses were discovered to be contaminated by HeLa.

    In 1984, Harald zur Hausen discovered first HPV16 and then HPV18 responsible for approximately 70% of cervical cancers. For discovery that human papillomaviruses (HPV) cause human cancer, zur Hausen won a 2008 Nobel Prize. [14]

    Since 1971 the United States has invested over $200 billion on cancer research that total includes money invested by public and private sectors and foundations. [15]

    Despite this substantial investment, the country has seen just a five percent decrease in the cancer death rate (adjusting for size and age of the population) between 1950 and 2005. [16] Longer life expectancy may be a contributing factor to this, as cancer rates and mortality rates increase significantly with age, more than three out of five cancers are diagnosed in people aged 65 and over. [17]


    Possible Oldest Cancer Found In 3,000-Year-Old Skeleton Could Reveal ‘Evolution’ Of Modern Disease

    Today, cancer is one of the leading causes of human death, but the disease is practically absent from the archaeological record. Until now. Scientists have discovered what they believe to be the oldest known evidence of metastatic cancer in a 3,000-year-old skeleton found in a tomb in Sudan.

    The finding suggests that cancer was already present in the Nile Valley around the same time David became king of the ancient Israelites. Researchers hope the discovery could shed light on the early days of the now common and deadly disease.

    “This find is of critical importance,” Michaela Binder, a doctoral student at Durham University in England who led the research, told The Independent. “It allows us to explore possible underlying causes of cancer in ancient populations, before the onset of modernity, and it could provide important new insights into the evolution of cancer in the past.”

    The skeleton, discovered at an archaeological site in northern Sudan known as Amara West, was that of a man between the ages of 25 and 35. According to researchers, he was buried on his back inside a painted wooden coffin. Dozens of other skeletons were also unearthed at Amara West.

    “From footprints left on wet mud floors, to the healed fractures of many ancient inhabitants, Amara West offers a unique insight into what it was like to live there – and die – in Egyptian-ruled Upper Nubia 3,200 years ago,” Neal Spencer, from the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

    Spencer and a team of researchers from Durham University and the British Museum analyzed the skeleton using radiography and a scanning electron microscope. They uncovered lesions on the bones that were consistent with those caused by a soft tissue cancer.

    The ancient man suffered cancerous damage to his pelvis, spine, shoulder blades, breast bone, collar bones and ribs. Researchers can’t pinpoint the exact cause of the cancer, but say several factors – environmental carcinogens, genetic factors or infection – could have triggered the disease.

    The team hopes the discovery will help them explore the underlying causes of cancer in ancient populations and provide insights into cancer’s progression through history.

    “Through taking an evolutionary approach to cancer, information from ancient human remains may prove a vital element in finding ways to address one of the world’s major health problems,” Binder said.

    While the skeleton uncovered in Sudan is certainly one of the earliest examples of cancer, it’s not the only case of the disease in ancient times. In 2000, paleopathologists excavating an ancient burial mound in Russia found a 2,700-year-old skeleton whose bones were riddled with tumors. According to the New York Times, scientists determined this to be the oldest known case of metastasizing prostate cancer.

    “The fact remains that there are only a minute number of truly ancient mummies and skeletons that show evidence of cancer,” Michael R. Zimmerman of Villanova University in Pennsylvania told the New York Times in 2010. “We just don’t find anything like the modern incidence of cancer.”


    Oldest Evidence Of Breast Cancer Seen In Ancient Egyptian Skeleton

    Archaeologists say they may have found the world's oldest case of breast cancer in a skeleton unearthed recently in Egypt -- a reminder that cancer is not just a modern disease.

    The skeleton, believed to be that of an adult woman, was unearthed by Spanish researchers working at the Qubbet el-Hawa archaeological site west of Aswan, Egypt.

    The bones date back 4,200 years and bear signs of "the typical destructive damages provoked by the extension of a breast cancer as a metastasis in the bones," according to a written statement issued by Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities.

    (Story continues below image.)

    Archaeologists discover 4,200-year-old skeleton, which shows signs of breast cancer.

    Who was this unfortunate woman? Evidence suggests she was an aristocrat who lived on the Nile River island of Elephantine during Egypt's 6th Dynasty.

    This isn't the first time researchers have found evidence of cancer in ancient times. Last March, archaeologists discovered a 3,000-year-old skeleton with metastatic cancer in a tomb in modern Sudan. And last October, a new MRI analysis of a Siberian mummy showed the "ice princess" likely suffered from breast cancer 2,500 years ago--and used medical marijuana to cope with the disease.


    Earliest Invasive Cancer Found in 3,000-Year-Old Skeleton

    A 3,000-year-old skeleton from a conquered territory of ancient Egypt is now the earliest known complete example of a person with malignant cancer spreading from an organ, findings that could help reveal insights on the evolution of the disease, researchers say.

    Cancer is one of the world's leading causes of death today, with numbers more than doubling over the past 30 years. However, direct evidence of cancer from ancient human remains is very rare compared with that from other medical conditions. This suggests the disease could mainly be a product of modern factors such as smoking, diet, pollution and greater life expectancies.

    To better understand the apparent rising prevalence of cancer over time, scientists want to investigate signs of cancer in ancient humans. Past research had often discovered evidence of tumors in skeletons &mdash but they were benign ones that lacked the ability to invade neighboring tissues.

    However, until now, there were just three tentative examples of malignant tumors predating 1000 B.C. &mdash cancers that can metastasize, or spread to distant parts of the body. (Most people who die of cancer nowadays do so when it metastasizes, as tumors are typically more treatable before they spread.)

    Now scientists have found the oldest known complete example of a human skeleton with metastatic cancer &mdash remains unearthed in a tomb in northern Sudan in northeastern Africa. [See Photos of the Ancient Skeleton and Cancerous Tumors]

    "The most important implication is that cancer did affect people in the past, too," study lead author Michaela Binder, a bioarchaeologist at Durham University in England, told Live Science. "People have suspected that but again there is very little proof for that."

    The skeleton was discovered at the archaeological site of Amara West, located on the left bank of the Nile River, about 465 miles (750 kilometers) downstream of Sudan's modern capital of Khartoum. Aside from a narrow strip of shrubs and trees on the riverbank, the area is now largely desert.

    The researchers said the skeleton belonged to a man they estimated was between 25 and 35 years old when he died. He was buried on his back with a faded blue-glazed ceramic amulet in what is now a badly deteriorated painted wooden coffin, alongside 20 other people, perhaps his family.

    Life in ancient Nubia

    The ancient settlement at Amara West "was founded around 1300 B.C. as the new administrative capital of Kush, the province of Upper Nubia, which was occupied by the ancient Egyptian empire between 1500 B.C. to 1100 B.C.," said Binder, who excavated and examined the skeleton in 2013. Pottery recovered from the skeleton's tomb suggests it dates to the 20th Dynasty of ancient Egypt, or about 1187 to 1064 B.C., when Egypt had conflicts with Libya and while pharaohs such as Ramses III were being buried in the Valley of the Kings. [In Photos: The Mummy of King Ramses III]

    Archaeologists are investigating the site because "many questions about the time period of Egyptian occupation of Nubia are still open &mdash most importantly, what was it like to live in occupied Nubia," Binder explained. She said that Amara West is incredibly well-preserved, permitting "a very rare opportunity to not only draw a really comprehensive picture of what life in ancient Nubia was like, but also how it changed over time," Binder said.

    At this site, local Nubian peoples lived according to Egyptian standards. For instance, the architecture of this skeleton's tomb is evidence of a hybrid blend of Egyptian elements such as painted coffins and burial gifts alongside Nubian elements such as a low mound to mark the tomb.

    "From footprints left on wet mud floors to the healed fractures of many ancient inhabitants, Amara West offers a unique insight into what it was like to live there &mdash and die &mdash in Egyptian-ruled Upper Nubia 3,200 years ago," study co-author and project director Neal Spencer at the British Museum said in a statement.

    The main hazard of working at Amara West "are the nimiti, small black flies that are a pest that usually befalls the area between January and March for about six weeks," Binder said. "They produce painful bites on bad days, we can only work covered in mosquito nets. There are also quite a lot of crocodiles in the area we see them from the boat when we go back from [the] site around lunch time, but they usually don't attack people."

    Still, "the work at Amara West was one of the least difficult and most enjoyable research projects I've ever worked on," Binder said. "We live on a small island of about 300 inhabitants near the site in a traditional Nubian mud brick house amidst a group of other vividly colored Nubian houses. The people are exceptionally friendly."

    Ancient bone lesions

    To examine the skeleton, researchers used X-rays and a scanning electron microscope. They developed clear images of lesions on the bones, evidence of metastases on the collar bones, shoulder blades, upper arms, vertebrae, ribs, pelvis and thigh bones. They suspect these resulted from cells that spread from a tumor in a soft organ. [Image Gallery: Ancient Corpse Reveals Medical Oddity]

    "This is the oldest complete skeleton with this particular type of cancer &mdash bone metastases spreading from cancer in an organ," Binder said.

    The scientists can only speculate on what caused this cancer. They suggest it could be the result of genetic factors, or environmental carcinogens such as smoke from wood fires, or infectious diseasessuch as schistosomiasis, which is caused by parasites. Schistosomiasis plagued inhabitants of Egypt and Nubia since at least 1500 B.C., and is now recognized as a cause of bladder and breast cancers in men.

    Future research could help pinpoint the cause of this ancient cancer by analyzing this body's DNA to look for the mutations that might be to blame for the disease.

    "What is important about such pre-modern findings in humans is the fact that they can help us understand what factors lead to cancer before the onset of modern living conditions," Binder said. "It could be possible to see if and how the human genomechanged and what factors made us susceptible to cancer. Together with a sound historical background we could then also understand what factors led to these changes. This could help predict developments in the future and may be useful for medical research in developing new ways of research or therapies."

    Unfortunately, DNA is not always preserved, so it is possible such research would not be successful, Binder said. Another problem scientists in Sudan face is the increasing destruction of sites there.

    "At Amara it is currently a race against time, because on one hand there is increasing looting by real tomb robbers &mdash we had two large chamber tombs completely destroyed between the seasons 2013 and 2014 &mdash and on the other hand there are plans to build new dams along the Nile. One of them, if it's going to be built, would entirely destroy the cemeteries of Amara West," Binder said.

    The scientists detailed their findings online March 17 in the journal PLOS ONE.


    Lytic lesion in the spinous process of the 5th thoracic vertebra

    Archaeologists have found the oldest complete example in the world of a human with metastatic cancer in a 3,000 year-old skeleton.

    The findings are reported in the academic journal PLOS ONE.

    The skeleton of the young adult male was found by a Durham University PhD student in a tomb in modern Sudan in 2013 and dates back to 1200BC.

    Analysis has revealed evidence of metastatic carcinoma, cancer which has spread to other parts of the body from where it started, from a malignant soft-tissue tumour spread across large areas of the body, making it the oldest convincing complete example of metastatic cancer in the archaeological record.

    The researchers from Durham University and the British Museum say the discovery will help to explore underlying causes of cancer in ancient populations and provide insights into the evolution of cancer in the past. Ancient DNA analysis of skeletons and mummies with evidence of cancer can be used to detect mutations in specific genes that are known to be associated with particular types of cancer.

    Even though cancer is one of the world&rsquos leading causes of death today, it remains almost absent from the archaeological record compared to other pathological conditions, giving rise to the conclusion that the disease is mainly a product of modern living and increased longevity. These findings suggest that cancer is not only a modern disease but was already present in the Nile Valley in ancient times.

    Lead author, Michaela Binder, a PhD student in the Department of Archaeology at Durham University, excavated and examined the skeleton. She said: &ldquoVery little is known about the antiquity, epidemiology and evolution of cancer in past human populations apart from some textual references and a small number of skeletons with signs of cancer.

    &ldquoInsights gained from archaeological human remains like these can really help us to understand the evolution and history of modern diseases.

    &ldquoOur analysis showed that the shape of the small lesions on the bones can only have been caused by a soft tissue cancer even though the exact origin is impossible to determine through the bones alone.&rdquo

    The skeleton is of an adult male estimated to be between 25-35 years old when he died and was found at the archaeological site of Amara West in northern Sudan, situated on the Nile, 750km downstream of the country&rsquos modern capital Khartoum. It was buried extended on his back, within a badly deteriorated painted wooden coffin, and provided with a glazed faience amulet as a grave good.

    Previously, there has only been one convincing, and two tentative, examples of metastatic cancer predating the 1 st millennium BC reported in human remains. However, because the remains derived from early 20th century excavations, only the skulls were retained, thus making a full re-analysis of each skeleton, to generate differential (possible) diagnoses, impossible.

    Co-author, Dr Neal Spencer from the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum, said: &ldquoFrom footprints left on wet mud floors, to the healed fractures of many ancient inhabitants, Amara West offers a unique insight into what it was like to live there &ndash and die &ndash in Egyptian-ruled Upper Nubia 3200 years ago.&rdquo

    The skeleton was examined by experts at Durham University and the British Museum using radiography and a scanning electron microscope (SEM) which resulted in clear imaging of the lesions on the bones. It showed cancer metastases on the collar bones, shoulder blades, upper arms, vertebrae, ribs, pelvis and thigh bones.

    The cause of the cancer can only be speculative but the researchers say it could be as a result of environmental carcinogens such as smoke from wood fires, through genetic factors, or from infectious diseases such as schistosomiasis which is caused by parasites.

    They say that an underlying schistosomiasis infection seems a plausible explanation for the cancer in this individual as the disease had plagued inhabitants of Egypt and Nubia since at least 1500BC, and is now recognised as a cause of bladder cancer and breast cancer in men.

    Michaela Binder added: &ldquoThrough taking an evolutionary approach to cancer, information from ancient human remains may prove a vital element in finding ways to address one of the world&rsquos major health problems.&rdquo

    The tomb, where the skeleton was found, appears to have been used for high-status individuals from the town, but not the ruling elite, based on the tomb architecture and aspects of funerary ritual.

    The tomb&rsquos architecture is evidence of a hybrid culture blending Pharaonic elements (burial goods, painted coffins) with Nubian culture (a low mound to mark the tomb).

    The well preserved pottery recovered from the tomb provides a date within the 20th Dynasty (1187-1064BC), a period when Egypt ruled Upper Nubia, endured conflicts with Libya and while pharaohs such as Ramses III were being buried in the Valley of the Kings.

    The research was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Institute of Bioarchaeology Amara West Field School, with the permission of the National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums in Sudan.


    Cancer Isn’t Just a Modern Problem

    Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the modern world, but there is virtually no presence in the archaeological records compared to other common diseases. This has led to many theories that the incidence of cancer is largely linked to our modern day lifestyles and longer average lifetimes.

    (Quick Fact: The World Health Organization estimates that cancer cases will reach 22 million a year in the next two decades.)

    The discovery of a 3,000 year old skeleton who developed metastatic cancer show that these diseases are not only a modern issue but an ancient one too. Binder believes this will provide scientists with an avenue to investigate the incidence of cancer in ancient populations. It should also provide some clues as to how these diseases have evolved over time.


    Archaeologists discover earliest example of human with cancer

    LONDON (Reuters) - 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 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 PhD 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 to other diseases - and that has given rise to the idea that cancers are mainly attributable to modern lifestyles and to people living for longer.

    According to the World Health Organisation’s cancer research agency, new cancer cases rose to an estimated 14 million a year in 2012, a figure seen rising to 22 million within the 20 years.

    Yet these new findings, published in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS ONE on Monday, suggest cancer is not only a modern disease, but was around in the Nile Valley even in ancient times.

    Binder said the discovery should help scientists explore the underlying causes of cancer in ancient populations and give fresh clues about the evolution of cancer in the past.

    Ancient DNA analysis of skeletons and mummies with evidence of cancer can be used to detect mutations in specific genes that are known to be associated with particular types of cancer.

    The skeleton is of an adult male estimated to be between 25- and 35-years-old when he died. It was found at the archaeological site of Amara West in northern Sudan, on the Nile, 750 km downstream from the capital Khartoum.

    The researchers said they could only speculate on what may have caused of the young man’s cancer, but it may have been as a result of environmental carcinogens such as smoke from wood fires, or due to genetic factors, or from an infectious disease such as schistosomiasis, which is caused by parasites.

    Schistosomiasis would be a plausible explanation, they said, since the disease has plagued inhabitants of Egypt and Nubia since at least 1500 BC and is now recognized as a cause of bladder cancer and breast cancer in men.


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