Skeleton in Sudan reveals earliest case of metastatic cancer

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British archaeologists have uncovered what they believe to be the oldest complete case of a human being with cancer. They hope that this discovery will offer new clues about metastatic cancer.

The British Museum and Durham University researchers found evidence of tumours that had grown and spread in a skeleton believed to be 3,000 years old. This discovery was made in a tomb during 2013, in modern Sudan.

The skeleton was analysed with the use of an electronic microscope and radiography. Through these methods they were able to obtain clear images of bone lesions which indicated that the cancer had spread and caused tumours on the shoulder blades, collar bones, vertebrae, ribs, upper arms, thigh bones and pelvic bones.

A Durham PhD student who was the leader in the research project, Michaela Binder, stated that the insights gained from this type of archaeological find can assist the medical fraternity in understanding the evolution and the history related to modern diseases. The analyses they did indicated that the shape of the tiny lesions on the bones of the body could only have been caused a soft tissue cancer.

Although cancer is one of the leading global causes of death nowadays, archaeological records have not previously indicated cancer when compared to other diseases that were present. This has made researchers believe that cancers are caused by our modern way of life and because people are living longer.

New Cases
The World Health Organisation’s cancer research agency has revealed that new cancer cases increases to an estimated 14 million cases annually in 2012.

These new findings by archaeologists show that cancer is not only a modern disease, but would have been around during ancient times. This discovery should allow scientists to investigate the underlying causes of this deadly disease in ancient population and find new clues regarding the disease’s evolution.

Image credit: Nico Paix

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