World's Oldest Example of Cancer Found in 1.7 million-year-old Human Toe Bone
Up until now the oldest evidence of human cancer dated back to around 3,000 B.C.
But this recent discovery in Johannesburg by British and South African scientists contradicts the theories that cancer is a modern disease, predominantly caused by modern lifestyle and environments.
A team of researchers from the Universities of Central Lancashire and Witwatersrand were scanning the fossils of prehistoric humans found in the Swartkrans archaeological site, when they noticed that the inside of one toe bone was opaque.
“The bone should have been hollow, and for it not to be hollow requires an expansion of some sort. So we compared it with modern biopsies of cancer patients and realised it was a malignant tumour. We don’t know whether it was the cancer that killed him or something else. It would have certainly affected his mobility so it’s just as likely he was killed by a sabertooth tiger.”
The cancer has been identified as an osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer which usually affects younger individuals in modern humans, and typically results in early death if left untreated.
Edward Odes, who co-wrote the paper, which is published in the South African Journal of Science, said:
“Modern medicine tends to assume that cancers and tumours in humans are diseases caused by modern lifestyles and environments, but our studies show the origins of these diseases occurred in our ancient relatives millions of years before modern industrial societies existed.”