The oldest evidence of cancer in human relatives has long been a 120,000-year-old Neanderthal. A single foot bone changes that, by a lot. Belonging to an early hominin who lived 1.7 million years ago in South Africa, it holds the oldest example of a malignant tumor in a human ancestor and upends scientists' view of cancer throughout history. The bone, which ran from the ankle to the pinky toe of a Homo ergaster or Paranthropus robustus hominin, per the BBC, was actually discovered decades ago but recently re-examined with high-resolution X-rays. They revealed bone cancer, possibly osteosarcoma, with an "irregular spongy woven bone texture with a cauliflower-like external appearance," scientists say, per NPR.
"We tested this particular bone with a known modern human osteosarcoma specimen, and it looked identical," a researcher tells CNN. The cancer would have affected the individual's movement, though it isn't clear if it was fatal, reports New Scientist. "This kind of research changes perceptions of cancer," says study author Patrick Randolph-Quinney of the University of Central Lancashire. "Even if we have very healthy, perfect lifestyles we still have the capacity for cancer. It is an inherent part of our evolutionary process." Scientists also discovered the oldest known human tumor in the vertebrae of a child who lived 2 million years ago, though that growth was benign. (Meet a human relative we didn't know existed until fairly recently.)