3,200-year-old skeleton with cancer found in Sudan
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Last Updated: Tuesday, March 18, 2014, 17:49
London: Archaeologists have discovered 3,200-year-old skeleton of a young man with a spreading form of cancer, the oldest known example of the disease often linked to a modern lifestyle.

The skeleton of the young adult male estimated to be between 25-35 years old was found in a tomb in modern Sudan in 2013 and dates back to 1200BC.

Analysis showed evidence of metastatic carcinoma - which spreads to other parts of the body from where it started - from a malignant soft-tissue tumour spread across large areas of the body, making it the oldest convincing complete example of metastatic cancer in the archaeological record.

Researchers said the discovery will help to explore underlying causes of cancer in ancient populations and provide insights into the evolution of cancer in the past.

Even though cancer is one of the world's leading causes of death, it remains almost absent from the archaeological record compared to other pathological conditions, giving rise to the conclusion that the disease is mainly a product of modern living and increased longevity.

These findings suggest that cancer is not only a modern disease but was already present in the Nile Valley in ancient times.

"Insights gained from archaeological human remains like these can really help us to understand the evolution and history of modern diseases," said lead author Michaela Binder from the Durham University, who excavated and examined the skeleton.

"Our analysis showed that the shape of the small lesions on the bones can only have been caused by a soft tissue cancer even though the exact origin is impossible to determine through the bones alone," Binder said.

The skeleton is of an adult male was found at the archaeological site of Amara West in northern Sudan, situated on the Nile, 750km downstream of the capital Khartoum.

It was buried extended on his back, within a badly deteriorated painted wooden coffin, and provided with a glazed faience amulet as a grave good.

Previously, there has only been one convincing, and two tentative, examples of metastatic cancer predating the 1st millennium BC reported in human remains.

However, because the remains derived from early 20th century excavations, only the skulls were retained, thus making a full re-analysis of each skeleton, to generate differential (possible) diagnoses, impossible.

The skeleton was examined by using radiography and a scanning electron microscope (SEM) which resulted in clear imaging of the lesions on the bones.

It showed cancer metastases on the collar bones, shoulder blades, upper arms, vertebrae, ribs, pelvis and thigh bones.

The findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.


First Published: Tuesday, March 18, 2014, 17:49

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