Skeleton Yields Oldest Known Case of Cancer

Disease killed man 3.2K years ago

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 18, 2014 2:46 AM CDT

(Newser) – Scientists hope the skeleton of a very sick man from 3,200 years ago will give new clues to the evolution and causes of cancer. The remains found in an ancient Sudanese tomb bear traces of what is believed to be the oldest case of metastatic cancer ever found, reports the International Business Times. Lesions on the bones show that the man buried in a painted wooden coffin suffered cancerous damage to his pelvis, spine, shoulder blades, breast bone, collar bones, and ribs. He was 25 to 35 years old.

With factors like smoking, obesity, and longevity absent, researchers believe the rare case of cancer from thousands of years ago could have been caused by an infection, genetic factors, or carcinogens in wood smoke. "This find is of critical importance, as 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 lead researcher tells the Independent.

The body was found in a tomb at the Amara West site in the far north of Sudan.
The body was found in a tomb at the Amara West site in the far north of Sudan.   (British Museum)
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