Ancient Egyptians Tried to Surgically Treat Cancer, Study Finds

Humans have been waging the war against cancer for longer than expected, new research suggests. Scientists have discovered archaeological evidence that ancient Egyptians attempted to surgically remove cancerous lesions, dating back more than 4,000 years.

Previous research has found compelling evidence that ancient Egyptian physicians accurately described certain types of cancer, even though a clear understanding of cancer and effective treatments did not appear until much later in historical records. To better understand how the disease was perceived in the region, scientists from Spain, the United Kingdom and Germany studied a pair of skulls held in the Duckworth Collection at the University of Cambridge.

The skull and mandible of one specimen, known as 236, belonged to a man in his thirties, who would have lived between 2687 and 2345 BCE; the other skull, specimen E270, belonged to a woman over 50 years old who lived between 663 and 343 BCE.

Using a microscope, researchers found signs of significant cancerous lesions in both skulls, which had caused extensive tissue damage. Skull 236 in particular was littered with smaller lesions all over the skull, likely an indication of advanced, metastasized cancer. But to their surprise, the researchers also found cut marks around 236’s lesions, suggesting that his doctors had tried to surgically remove his cancer as best they could, probably with sharp metal instruments.

If the team’s discovery is genuine, it would be the first documented case of surgical treatment of cancer in human history. Their conclusions were published Wednesday in the newspaper Frontiers of medicine.

“We were very skeptical at first when we saw the streaks on the tumor under the microscope, even though they were very clear,” study co-author Edgard Camarós, a paleopathologist at the University of Saint-Germain, told Gizmodo. Jacques de Compostela in Spain. E-mail. “It took us a while to realize that we were viewing evidence of an important milestone in the history of medicine. »

Surgery alone can sometimes treat solid cancers, although it is most effective when tumors are located and detected as early as possible. But given the general condition of 236’s skull and the authors’ conclusion that the cut marks were perimortem (i.e. made shortly before death), it is almost certain that this particular treatment was doomed to fail. It’s also possible that the cuts were made shortly after death, which could further show that ancient Egyptian doctors were trying to understand this terrible affliction thousands of years before it occurred. even officially named cancer.

The team’s work is expected to provide new information about the origins of medical care as well as the people who lived in ancient Egypt, the authors say. But archaeological remains are often incomplete, meaning different scientists may have different hypotheses about what the evidence tells us.

For example, the team also believes they found evidence that Skull 250 suffered and received successful treatment for a previous traumatic injury. It is therefore possible that this woman was involved in some sort of war in the region. However, more research and data will be needed to verify this intuition, as well as to confirm and expand their findings about cancer in the ancient world, they note.

“The next steps will be to try to understand the relationship that humans had with cancer during earlier periods of our evolution and history,” Camarós said. “Our goal is to complete the biography of cancer from the very beginning of human history. »

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Gn Health

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