Ancient tumor could possibly shed light on cancers

Leigh Goessl's image for:
"Ancient tumor could possibly shed light on cancers"
Image by: 

Archeologists have uncovered the oldest tumor ever found. The bone comes from the rib of a Neanderthal. The tumor is a non-spreadable kind that is not cancerous, reported Live Science (courtesy Yahoo! News).

Found in Croatia over 100 years ago, the bone has been analyzed by experts. It is gauged to be over 100,000 years old. Other bones were also reportedly found in the dig site that dated 120,000 to 130,000 years ago.  

Many of the Neanderthal remains showed signs of trauma and "post-mortem cutting marks", said the Live Science report. The bones had been scanned in the late 1990s, but one particular bone showing unusual characteristics was recently given a more thorough examination through modern technology that produced better image resolution.

After getting a clearer look, experts believe the individual with this tumor suffered pain.

"They range all the way from being totally benign, where you wouldn’t recognize them, to being extremely painful," said David Frayer, an anthropologist at the University of Kansas who reported the finding along with his colleagues on June 5. "The size of this one, and the bulging of it, probably caused the individual pain."

Mostly cancer is thought of as a "modern disease", however, current evidence suggests it has been around much longer.

"It's the oldest tumor found in the human fossil record," Dr David Frayer, the University of Kansas anthropologist who led the US team, told BBC News.

"Evidence for cancer is extremely rare in the human fossil record. This case shows that Neanderthals, living in an unpolluted environment, were susceptible to the same kind of cancer as living humans," said Frayer in a press release.

He also noted that the individuals probably slept in caves with fires, so there were some pollutants.

Experts say the tumor, called fibrous dysplasia,  is very similar to a type of tumor found in humans today. It is hoped some clues can be shed on the history of cancer in humans. Neanderthals are believed to have died out around 30,000 years ago. Interbreeding with homo sapiens has occurred, say experts. Although, in this specimen, experts were unable to get DNA from the rib tumor bone.

"We do see it in human patients today," Janet Monge, the keeper of physical anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, told LiveScience. "It's exactly the same kind of process and in the same place."

Prior to this discovery the oldest evidences of cancer came from ancient Egypt, but are 'only' thousands of years old. For instance, in 2012, researchers in Portugal found evidence of cancer in a 2,200-year-old mummy.

The full details of this study were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

More about this author: Leigh Goessl

From Around the Web

  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow