Monday, October 18, 2010

The Missing History of Cancer

People who study Egyptian mummies and other well-preserved ancient bodies find much evidence of malnutrition, arthritis, malaria, and other ancient scourges, but very little evidence of cancer. The term is from classical Greek, so the disease was certainly known in the ancient world, but it seems to have been quite rare. These days, by contrast, cancer is the second leading cause of death, and almost all people have some cancer in their bodies by the time they reach 70. Something about modern life causes most of our cancers. This is from a recent study that included both examinations of medical texts and the largest study yet of mummies:
Hundreds of mummies from all areas of the world have been examined and there are still only two publications showing microscopic confirmation of cancer. Radiological 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 and the first reports in scientific literature of distinctive tumours have 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.

Rosalie David on the University of Birmingham concludes, "Cancer is a man-made disease."

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