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Oldest known example of bone cancer in man found in the Sudan

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The oldest known example of bone cancer in a human being was reported by Michaela Binder from Durham University in the United Kingdom and colleagues from the British Museum in London in the March 17, 2014, edition of the journal Public Library of Science.

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The remains of a young man found in the archaeological site of Amara West in modern Sudan, situated on the left bank of the Nile about 750 kilometers south of the Khartoum was determined to have had bone cancer. The bone cancer had metastasized from either a skin cancer or cancer of an organ according to x-rays, microscopic, and scanning electron microscopic imaging of the lesions. The remains were recovered from an ancient Nubian tomb. The man was between 25 and 35 years of age when he died.

The skeleton is 3214 years old. This is the most complete example of cancer in ancient times that has been unearthed to date. There are older examples of cancer from ancient Egypt and Austria but none show the extensive progression of the disease that is displayed in this individual. Metastatic cancer has never been seen in the fossil record before.

While cancer is rare in ancient times this discovery raises questions as to present thinking about environmental causes of cancer due to pollution, smoking, and other causes. Apparently, the shortened telomeres that give rise to much of cancer have been present in human DNA for thousands of years.

The researchers plan to extend their inspection of ancient cancer in hopes of changing medical perspectives on the cause and potential cure of cancer.

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