Friday, March 21, 2014

Ancient skeleton is the earliest case of cancer yet detected

Researchers have discovered the earliest confirmed case of cancer in a young man who lived in ancient Egypt.

The discovery of a diseased skeleton dating back to around 1,200 BC was made at the Amara West site in northern Sudan.

The new finding suggests that the disease has its roots in the distant past.

Details of the skeleton have been published in the Journal PLOS ONE.

The skeleton was discovered by Michaela Binder, a PhD student at Durham University. 

She said the find was of "critical importance in learning about the underlying causes of cancer in ancient populations, before the onset of modern lifestyles". 

Cancer is thought of as a modern-day disease, spurred on by smoking, unhealthy lifestyles and the stresses of day-to-day living. Ms Binder's discovery suggests that the disease was prevalent thousands of years ago.

"I was surprised to see such a cancer in an individual from ancient Egyptian times," she told BBC News. 

"We still don't know a lot about cancer. Only a very few examples have been found of the disease in the distant past."

Ms Binder's finding is of particular interest because it is 2,000 years older than the previously confirmed instance of the disease.

Evolving disease When she unearthed the skeleton she found that the bones were riddled with holes. 

She worked with Daniel Antoine, a curator at the British Museum, who is responsible for the museum's human remains.

"It was very exciting to work with such a well preserved skeleton," he told BBC News.

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