Research suggests that fewer people had cancer in ancient times

Added 15/10/2010


Research conducted on hundreds of mummies has led to the discovery that few people had cancer in ancient times. In the modern world, cancer is the cause of nearly one in three deaths. The research suggests that cancer is a modern disease brought about by the industrial age. Changes in our diets, lifestyles and the affects of pollution could have led the rise in cancer cases.

Out of all the mummies that were studied, only a few contained evidence of cancer, most of which were benign tumours. Other age related diseases such as arthritis were found in the specimens, implying that people living in ancient times would have been old enough to develop cancer. Plus in the modern world some types of cancer aren’t related to age - many children suffer from cancer.

Research suggests that tumours would have been better preserved in mummies than ordinary tissue, which overrides the suggestion that cancer tumours could have deteriorated over time.

Different types of cancer can be traced back to certain lifestyle changes. For example, in 1761, snuff users suffered from nasal cancer and in 1775, scrotal cancer began to appear amongst chimney sweeps. But researchers are unsure what caused the few cases of cancer in ancient times.

Around 150,000 people die from cancer in the UK. The research carried out on mummified remains could help scientists understand the disease more. The research suggests that cancer is purely manmade, but a health information officer at Cancer Research UK said that conclusion might not be entirely accurate.

‘It can be tempting to worry about our cancer risk from external things like pollution and chemicals more than from things we can control, like our lifestyles,’ she said.

News Archive

News Search