Neanderthals Got Tumors, Too

Researchers find the oldest one ever
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 6, 2013 9:05 AM CDT
Neanderthals Got Tumors, Too
These bone fragments show the gaps caused by the growing tumor.   (PLOS One)

Looks like cavemen had to deal with tumors, too. Scientists have found evidence of the oldest tumor on record in the rib of a Neanderthal who lived roughly 130,000 years ago, they revealed in PLOS One yesterday. The inch-long bone was dug up more than 100 years ago, but using a modern micro-CT scan machine, researchers discovered that it had been hollowed out by a fibrous dysplasia tumor. "We do see it in human patients today," one researcher tells LiveScience. "It's exactly the same kind of process and in the same place."

Fibrous dysplasia tumors hollow out bones, replacing their interior with a soft fibrous mass. They're not cancerous, and some are even benign. But they can also be incredibly painful—and based on its size, this one probably was. The finding indicates that Neanderthals were vulnerable to tumors, despite living in a lower-carcinogen environment. "They didn't have pesticides, but they probably were sleeping in caves with burning fires," one anthropologist tells National Geographic. "They were probably inhaling a lot of smoke." (More Neanderthals stories.)

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