A mummy preserved about 2,250 years ago in Egypt suffered from prostate cancer. The mummy tumors were detected using a technology that only recently became available, so it might mean lots more ancient cancer cases will be revealed.
Scientists report in a paper soon to appear in the International Journal of Paleopathology that the mummy, known as M1, died when he was between 51 and 60. He is the oldest case of prostate cancer identified in ancient Egypt, and the second oldest in the world (the oldest was in the 2700-year-old skeleton of a Scythian king in Russia). M1's scans also show a malignant cancer that had spread to his spine and other areas around his pelvis.
Both cancers were identified using a high-resolution computerized tomography scanner that can detect tumors just one to two millimeters in diameter. A device that can discern such minute lesions has been available only since 2005. So researchers think that the number of cases of all types of cancer throughout human history were probably underestimated.
Science Now reports that a 1998 study in the Journal of Paleopathology found just 176 cases of skeletal malignancies in tens of thousands of ancient human remains. So researchers thought cancer cases were much lower before industry started polluting everything. However, there were actually plenty of carcinogens around way back when: soot from wood-burning chimneys and fireplaces, and the bitumen used to build ancient boats has been linked to lung cancer.
In fact, in a recent paper in the journal Science, scientists reported that indoor cooking stoves kill 2 million people every year.
What I really want to know is: did they time this publication to fall near Halloween?