October 15, 2010
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 cancer 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.
‘There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer. So it has to be a man-made disease, down to pollution and changes to our diet and lifestyle.
‘The important thing about our study is that it gives a historical perspective to this disease. We can make very clear statements on the cancer rates in societies because we have a full overview. We have looked at millennia, not one hundred years, and have masses of data.
‘Yet again extensive ancient Egyptian data, along with other data from across the millennia, has given modern society a clear message – cancer is man-made and something that we can and should address.
Dr Rachel Thompson, of World Cancer Research Fund, said: ‘This research makes for very interesting reading.
‘About one in three people in the UK will get cancer so it is fairly commonplace in the modern world.
Scientists now say a healthy diet, regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight can prevent about a third of the most common cancers so perhaps our ancestors’ lifestyle reduced their risk from cancer.’
December 9, 2009
By Mike Adams
The fragility of our modern human civilization did not become clear to me until I began living full-time in South America. As a resident of Vilcabamba, Ecuador, I’ve grown accustomed to the idea of knowing where the things I consume come from.
The water I drink, for example, comes from a hole in the ground that taps into a water table replenished by the clouds hanging over the Podocarpus National Forest to the East. I can make a logical connection between the clouds, the rainfall, and the water in my glass. And if the well pump fails, I know I can always carry a bucket to the river a few hundred meters away and scoop up virtually unlimited quantities of water that recently fell out of the sky.
During a recent trip to Tucson, however, I found myself hesitating when I turned on the kitchen fauctet. I paused, marveling at the magic of this water which apparently appears from nowhere. And it’s always there, reliable and uninterrupted. That’s when I noticed myself asking the commonsense question: “Where does the water come from around here?”
I had no idea.
The realization astonished me. I lived in Tucson for over five years and yet the thought suddenly occurred to me that if the water stopped magically flowing out of these pipes, I had absolutely no idea where to physically find water beyond the bottled water in the grocery stores, and that wouldn’t last very long.
Sure, I know where the rivers are in Tucson, but these desert rivers are bone dry river beds for all but a few days of the year. And yes, I know how to get water out of cactus, but it’s hard work, and the water isn’t pure water. Try to live off cactus juice for a few days and you’ll end up with severe diarrhea (which is dehydrating).