Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

How Old Is Cancer?

Premium

Cancer researchers often ask themselves how far back cancer goes — the idea being that if we know more about how the disease has evolved, we might be able to better understand the causes, how it progresses, and how to stop it. Rosalie David at the University of Manchester and Michael Zimmerman at Villanova University ask this question in their paper in Nature. Cancer was rare in antiquity, they say, which poses a lot of questions about today's world and the carcinogens in it. However, they add, a histological diagnosis of cancer in an Egyptian mummy was recently published, showing that we don't know the whole story, though it is likely that cancer is more of a problem now than it was during the time of the Pharaohs.

In the Pipeline's Derek Lowe says that while David and Zimmerman pose an interesting question, the lack of evidence one way or the other makes it a hard one to answer. It can be quite hard to get meaningful histological data from an ancient bone sample, which is all researchers have to work with, he says. And while we have Egyptian mummies preserved, we don't have any Greek mummies — and the Greeks were some of the first to describe metastatic tumors and gave us the name for the disease. There is no denying the environmental causes of some cancers, Lowe says, like smoking and industrial chemicals. But longer lives can also be blamed as a "cause" of cancer — ancient Egyptians usually only lived until they were about 25 or 30 years old, which isn't enough time to develop all the cancers seen in longer-lived people today. In the end, he says, there just isn't enough evidence to definitively say whether cancer is an old problem or a new one.

The Scan

UCLA Team Reports Cost-Effective Liquid Biopsy Approach for Cancer Detection

The researchers report in Nature Communications that their liquid biopsy approach has high specificity in detecting all- and early-stage cancers.

Machine Learning Improves Diagnostic Accuracy of Breast Cancer MRI, Study Shows

Combining machine learning with radiologists' interpretations further increased the diagnostic accuracy of MRIs for breast cancer, a Science Translational Medicine paper finds.

Genome Damage in Neurons Triggers Alzheimer's-Linked Inflammation

Neurons harboring increased DNA double-strand breaks activate microglia to lead to neuroinflammation like that seen in Alzheimer's disease, a new Science Advances study finds.

Long COVID-19 Susceptibility Clues Contained in Blood Plasma Proteome

A longitudinal study in eBioMedicine found weeks-long blood plasma proteome shifts after SARS-CoV-2 infection, along with proteomic signatures that appeared to coincide with long Covid risk.