Ancient Skull With Brain Cancer Preserves Clues to Egyptian Medicine

Fluctuating disease rates, innovative treatments and talk of “moonshots” at the White House can make cancer seem like a modern scourge. But a new discovery sheds light on how humans have dealt with illness and sought cures as far back as the days of the ancient Egyptians.

Scientists led by Edgard Camarós, a paleopathologist at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, were studying an Egyptian skull approximately 4,600 years old when they discovered signs of brain cancer and its treatment.

“There was an uncomfortable silence in the room, because we knew what we had just discovered,” Dr. Camarós said.

Using a microscope, he and Tatiana Tondini of the University of Tübingen in Germany and Albert Isidro of Sagrat Cor University Hospital in Spain, the other authors of the study, discovered cut marks on the edges of the skull surrounding dozens of lesions that previous researchers had associated with metastases. brain cancer. The shape of the cuts indicated that they had been made with a metal tool. This discovery, reported in a study published Wednesday in the journal Frontiers in Medicine, suggests that the ancient Egyptians studied brain cancer through surgery. If the cuts were made while the person was alive, they may have even attempted to heal them.

Not only does this new discovery expand scientific knowledge about Egyptian medicine, it could also push back the timeline of humanity’s documented attempts to treat cancer by 1,000 years.

Cancer has plagued humans for as long as we have existed, and it has even plagued life on Earth long before that.

“Cancer is as old as time,” said Dr. Camarós. “Even dinosaurs suffered from cancer.”

Paleopathologists like Dr. Camarós study the evolution of a disease as well as attempts to understand or treat it. For example, we know that prehistoric humans suffered from cancers that no longer exist. He and his colleagues hope that discovering the changing nature of cancer over millennia may reveal insights that could help design treatments for today.

Although cancer was probably not well understood, Egyptian medicine was advanced compared to much of the ancient world. An Egyptian document called the Edwin Smith Papyrus, written about 3,600 years ago, refers to what some researchers believe was a case of cancer. This text describes “a serious illness” for which “no treatment existed”.

The people of ancient Egypt also operated on skulls in other ways. Dr. Camarós’ team also reports in the study that they found evidence of successful treatment for traumatic injury on another skull, this one 2,600 years old.

Casey L. Kirkpatrick, a bioarchaeologist and postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, said the new paper presents the first physical evidence of possible cancer treatment by the ancient Egyptians.

And in documenting other ancient historical evidence of the disease, Dr Kirkpatrick said the study had another benefit.

“It may also remind us that cancer is not a modern disease,” she said, “which might help relieve some guilt among people currently affected by cancer and concerned about the role their lifestyle played a role in its development.”

Just as cancer treatment was a frontier for the ancient Egyptians, modern researchers’ exploration of the deep past is fraught with uncertainty. Researchers say it is impossible to determine whether the surgical marks on the skull were made before death – which suggests treatment – ​​or afterward. Many cancers also occur in soft tissues, without affecting the bones. This presents a challenge for modern scientists because bones are the only items that typically survive in the fossil record.

Despite these obstacles, Dr. Camarós said the new discovery gives scientists a new perspective on what to look for. He next plans to search for similar evidence at ancient sites in Kenya.

“I’m sure that’s just an example,” he said.

News Source :
Gn Health

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