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World's oldest evidence of metasticized cancer found in Sudan

Satilite view of modern Sudan
Satilite view of modern Sudan
Wikicomons/Public Domain image

British archaeologists working at Amara West (northern Sudan) have discovered that is believed to be the oldest evidence of metastic cancer. The victim, an adult male estimated to be between 25-35-years-old when he died some 3,000 years ago, was found to have lesions on his collar bones, shoulder blades, vertebrae, ribs, upper arms, and thigh bones as well as on this pelvis.

"Insights gained from archaeological human remains like these can really help us to understand the evolution and history of modern diseases," said Michaela Binder, a Durham PhD student who led the research and excavated and examined the skeleton. "Our analysis showed that the shape of the small lesions on the bones could have only been caused by a soft tissue cancer, though the exact origin is impossible to determine through the bones alone."

Because evidence of cancer has been “virtually” missing from archeological records in comparison to numerous other diseases, Binder and her team stated that they could only guess at what had caused this man to contract the disease. One possible explanation is that he may have become infected with a parasite such as schistosomiasis (blood fluke worms), which has plagued people in Egypt and Nubia since for at least 3,500 years, and is now recognized by the World Health Organization as causing breast and bladder cancers in males.

The disease now affects people in 78 different countries (primarily in Africa) and is contracted when larvae released by freshwater snails penetrate the skin of people bathing in or drinking the contaminated water. The adult worms then live in their blood vessels, where the females hatch eggs, which in turn are passed though the body via regulation eliminations of feces and urine.