British and American scientists who studied a large number of Egyptian mummies found only a very small number with cancer. The rarity of cancer in the mummies was interpreted by the researchers as evidence the disease was also rare in all people living in antiquity. Some of the mummies were well over 1,000 years old.
“In an ancient society lacking surgical intervention, evidence of cancer should remain in all cases,” said researcher Michael Zimmerman from Villanova University. (Source: Telegraph.co.uk) Zimmerman found tissue containing rectal cancer in a mummy dated at 1,600 to 1,800 years old. It was the first time a mummy had been identified with cancer, but very little other cancer was found in the mummies. Rosalie David and Zimmerman also read ancient Egyptian and Greek literature and medical studies with human and animal subjects dating back to the dinosaur epoch. They did not find many cancer references, and interpreted the scarcity of documented examples as further potential evidence of an absence of cancer in pre-industrial societies. David said, “In industrialized societies, cancer is second only to cardiovascular disease as a cause of death, but in ancient times, it was extremely rare. There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer.” (Source: Livescience.com)
They both also observed the ancient people they studied did show signs of some age-related diseases such as atherosclerosis, osteoporosis and Paget’s disease of bone, which seems to support their idea cancer was rare, because cancer is also generally a disease of older age, and still they found very little of it.
However, a critic of the study explained, “To see cancers with the skeletal record, you really have to have a tumor that’s affecting bone. Although there might be few confirmed diagnoses of tumors in bones, it’s because cancer is a difficult diagnosis to make from bone,” explained John Hawks at the University of Wisconsin. (Source: Telegraph.co.uk)
Another critic stated people in antiquity rarely lived past the age of 30, but most cancers occur after that age, so it could be they simply didn’t live long enough for cancers to begin. People in those times were dying from other diseases before they could get cancer. Mr. Hawks stated modern lifestyles could contribute to cancer, but he did not believe cancer was related just to pollution.
“It can be tempting to worry about our cancer risk from external things like pollution and chemicals more than from things we can control, like our lifestyles,” said Jessica Harris, from Cancer Research UK. Source: (Source: Telegraph.co.uk) Still, it would seem sensible to limit one’s exposure to the slew of manmade chemicals found in industrial societies, for health generally, not only for cancer prevention.
Image Credit: Ricardo Liberato