and lifestyle factors cause cancer, as a new study finds little evidence
of the disease in ancient times
is a man-made disease caused by modern day environmental factors such as
pollution and diet, a new study suggests.
analysing the remains of hundreds of Egyptian mummies, researchers at the
University of Manchester concluded that cancer was extremely rare in ancient
Greek literature rarely refers to illnesses resembling cancer, and there
is scant evidence of tumour growth in animal fossils and non-human primates,
the researchers said. Cancer rates in have risen massively since the Industrial
Revolution, in particular childhood cancer, suggesting that the rise is
not simply due to people living longer.
Rosalie David, an expert in biomedical Egyptology 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.
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.”
it has been suggested that shorter life spans may be the reason why the
researchers found little evidence of the disease, people in ancient Egypt
and Greece lived long enough to show signs of other modern diseases such
as hardening of the arteries, osteoporosis and other bone conditions.
reason for the lack of tumours in ancient remains could be that tumours
may be destroyed during mummification. However, experiments performed by
the researchers indicate that tumours should be better preserved than normal
surveys of mummies from the Cairo Museum and museums in Europe have also
failed to reveal evidence of cancer. As the team moved through the ages,
it was not until the 17th century that they found descriptions of operations
for breast and other cancers. The
first reports in the literature of distinctive tumours only occurred in
the past 200 years, such as scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps in 1775, nasal
cancer in snuff users in 1761 and Hodgkin’s disease in 1832.
David said: “Where there are cases of cancer in ancient Egyptian remains,
we are not sure what caused them.
did heat their homes with fires, which gave off smoke, and temples burned
incense, but sometimes illnesses are just thrown up.
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.”
study is published in the journal Nature.