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The Curse of the Mummy's Prostate

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Why is it that mummies in horror movies moan all the time? Maybe it's because they're in pain from an enlarged prostate. Researchers in Portugal published a paper in the International Journal of Paleopathology that suggests they've found the second oldest case of prostate cancer in a mummy from the Ptolemaic period of Egyptian history, reports Science Now's Heather Pringle.

About 2,250 years ago, a man whose mummified body is now called M1 would have suffered pain in his lower back that would have spread to other parts of his body and made him miserable, and eventually killed him. Using high-resolution CT scanners, the researchers found "small, round, dense tumors in M1's pelvis and lumbar spine, as well as in his upper arm and leg bones," Pringle says. "These are the areas most commonly affected by metastatic prostate cancer."

The researchers also say that the prevalence of cancer in ancient populations may be underestimated, and that new imaging technology may help uncover more cases like M1's. "The equipment that [the research team] used to study M1, for example, has a pixel resolution of 0.33 millimeters, allowing radiologists to visualize even fleck-sized lesions," Pringle adds. Experts say such discoveries are not only of historical interest, but could also help researchers studying the origins of cancer, and how the disease develops from an interplay between genes and environment.

M1 is the oldest Egyptian mummy to have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, Pringle says, but the oldest case of the disease in the world was discovered in a 2,700-year-old Scythian king.

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