Mummies point to man-made cancer

Cancer is one the most dreaded diagnoses of the 21st century. Of course, the constant search is to find why cancer happens and hopefully to find interventions based on that cause. Now a new study has pointed to modern living as a broad cause for the general cancer problem because it seems that historically, cancer was very rare.

The sayings go that we ignore history at our peril and that to truly understand the present we must have an awareness of the past. New research suggests that when it comes to cancer this is certainly the case.

Researchers investigated hundreds of mummies from Egypt and found only one case of cancer. Worldwide only two cases of cancer have ever been detected in a mummy. As well as studying mummies the researchers also examined literary evidence from Greece and Egypt. They also examined prehistoric fossilised human remains and animal fossils dating back to the time of the dinosaurs.

The results showed that among humans and non-human primates cancers were extremely rare and those that did occur were of a benign type. The few malignant cancers found were in non-human primates but none of the cancers were of the types found in modern adult humans.

It has been suggested that tumours do not preserve well but these researchers from Manchester University’s Centre for Biomedical Egyptology report that in fact malignant tissue preserves better than normal tissue. They also point out that hardening of the arteries, Paget’s disease of bone, and osteoporosis have been shown to exist in ancient Greece and Egypt. So these diseases of older humans existed but cancer was rare, suggesting it is not merely the fact that we live far longer now that allows cancer to show up.

The researchers say that cancer, and especially childhood cancer, increased massively after the Industrial Revolution. Today cancer is our second greatest killer (to cardiovascular disease) yet in ancient times it was very rare. The researchers say that there is nothing in nature that can cause cancer so the root causes must lie in the changes we have made to our environment through pollution of varying sorts and also in altered diets and lifestyles.

If the evidence is correct this just adds more impetus to the need to look at the way we are living and to make appropriate adjustments to reduce cancer risk and improve our overall health. For those who question the evidence the argument becomes the same as for the climate change sceptics; even if the premise is wrong, taking action to be in harmony with a more sustainable world is just a better way to live.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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