Cancer ‘is purely man-made’ say scientists

Scientists found no signs of cancer in their extensive study of mummies apart from one isolated caseCancer is a man-made disease fuelled by the excesses of modern life, a study of ancient remains has found.

Tumours were rare until recent times when pollution and poor diet became issues, the review of mummies, fossils and classical literature found.

A greater understanding of its origins could lead to treatments for the disease, which claims more than 150,000 lives a year in the UK.

Michael Zimmerman, a visiting professor at Manchester University, said: ‘In an ancient society lacking surgical intervention, evidence of cancer should remain in all cases.

‘The virtual absence of malignancies in mummies must be interpreted as indicating their rarity in antiquity, indicating that cancer-causing factors are limited to societies affected by modern industrialisation.’

To trace cancer’s roots, Professor Zimmerman and colleague Rosalie David analysed possible references to the disease in classical literature and scrutinised signs in the fossil record and in mummified bodies.

Despite slivers of tissue from hundreds of Egyptian mummies being rehydrated and placed under the microscope, only one case of cancer has been confirmed.

This is despite experiments showing that tumours should be even better preserved by mummification than healthy tissues.

Dismissing the argument that the ancient Egyptians didn’t live long enough to develop cancer, the researchers pointed out that other age-related disease such as hardening of the arteries and brittle bones died occur.

Fossil evidence of cancer is also sparse, with scientific literature providing a few dozen, mostly disputed, examples in animal fossil, the journal Nature Reviews Cancer reports.

Even the study of thousands of Neanderthal bones has provided only one example of a possible cancer.

Evidence of cancer in ancient Egyptian texts is also ‘tenuous’ with cancer-like problems more likely to have been caused by leprosy or even varicose veins.

The ancient Greeks were probably the first to define cancer as a specific disease and to distinguish between benign and malignant tumours.

But Manchester professors said it was unclear if this signalled a real rise in the disease, or just a greater medical knowledge.

The 17th century provides the first descriptions of operations for breast and other cancers.

And the first reports in scientific literature of distinctive tumours only occurred in the past 200 years or so, including scrotal ca

ncer in chimney sweeps in 1775 and nasal cancer in snuff users in 1761.

Professor David, who presented the findings to Professor Mike Richards, the UK’s cancer tsar and other oncologists at a conference earlier this year, said: ‘In industrialised societies, cancer is second only to cardiovascular disease as a cause of death. But in ancient times, it was extremely rare. …

via Cancer ‘is purely man-made’ say scientists after finding almost no trace of disease in Egyptian mummies | Mail Online.

Wait, I thought cancer is something that is built in to our genetics and that it has been around forever. Isn’t it present in other species? Perhaps the ancient Egyptians were more medically advanced and they actually cured cancer, which is why no mummies have it. 😉


  1. Yeah, I looked at the NeuroLogica blog. And, it makes a point that cancer occurs more frequently among the elderly and thus less like to be found among ancient Egyptians, whose life expectancy seldom exceeded 50 years.

    But, the problem about having no soft tissue to study in the remains of ancient people overlooks that the fact that late-stage cancer spreads to other tissues including bones. Cancer of the soft tissues of the prostrate, breast and thyroid, for example, often spread to bone. And, even leukemia, cancer of the blood, causes pathological changes of bone tissue.

    And, A.R. David and M.R. Zimmerman didn’t say that cancer didn’t exist among ancient peoples, but the “striking rarity of malignancies in ancient physical remains might indicate that cancer was rare in antiquity.” (“Cancer: an old disease, a new disease or something in between?” Nat Rev Cancer. 2010;10(10):728-33)

    That cancer is a “rarity” among ancient remains seems to be a ubiquitous comment among other investigators doing similar research on human remains at ancient sites in other parts of the world. (e.g. L. H. Luna, C.M. Aranda et al., A case of multiple metastasis in Late Holocene hunter-gatherers from the Argentine Pampean region, Internat’l J Osteoarchaeology 2008; 18(5): 492–506; M.O. Smith, A probable case of metastatic carcinoma from the late prehistoric eastern Tennessee River Valley, 2002; 12(4): 235–247)

    And, the above Daily Mail report says there has been only one reported cancer case discovered among Neanderthal remains.

    Nature (2003)reported on a study of cancer among dinosaurs: “Dinosaurs got cancer: Bone scans reveal tumours only in duck-billed species.” The researchers of this investigation scanned 10,000 dinosaur vertebrae from more than 700 museum specimens and “only one group – the hadrosaurs, or ‘duck-billed dinosaurs’ – suffered from cancer.” The researchers weren’t sure why only this group had the disease, but they thought it perhaps it was due to their diet of conifers, which are high in carcinogenic chemicals.

    Although an ancient (3000-1500 BC) Egyptian papyrus describes breast cancer and Hippocrates noted the difference between benign and malignant tumors, people really got interested in cancer in the 1700s, as the above article points out (scrotal cancer among chimney sweeps in 1775; nasal cancer among snuff users in 1761). We may ask, was this because of the increasing incidence of the disease? It was in the 1700s that physician John Hunter (1728–1793) suggested that some cancers might be cured by surgery. Also, at about the same time, the first cancer hospital was opened in Reims, France, where people thought the disease was contagious.

    David and Zimmerman say their research “poses questions about the role of carcinogenic environmental factors in modern societies.”

    But, if you want the researcher who for decades has consistently presented this argument, and who has been consistently ignored (at least until quite recently) by the medical establishment seek Dr. Samuel Epstein, professor emeritus of environmental medicine at the U of Ill. School of Public Health, and chair of the “Cancer Prevention Coalition.” You might want to read “Cancer: It’s a Growth Industry” where David Ross interviews Epstein (Z magazine, October 2003).

    In just the recent decades, Epstein says, the incidence (not the mortality) of brain cancer has gone up about 80 or 90%. Breast cancer, up about 60 or 65%. Testicular cancer, up an incredible 300%. The incidence of some childhood cancers, up as high as 40 to 50%. These are not exaggerations. Although the mortality rates of many cancers have gone down because of new treatment techniques, the incidences of some (not all) cancer diseases have gone up.

    When asked, “Can genetics be the possible reason for this major increase in cancer?”

    Epstein replies, “Not at all. There’s no chance whatsoever that the genetics of human populations has changed in the last 40-50 years. It takes tens of thousands of years for genetic effects in the general population to change.”


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