Herakles attacked by karkinos, Louvre
I decided to re-post a slightly re-arranged version (as we need to be updated!!) of this feature in my blog (the original was posted in 2010) as new 'charges' from the same nonsense invaded recently the media.
Next is what I wrote in 2010 and that I maintain.
Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee's book: The Emperor of all Maladies.
After reading the Nature article I was appaled by the conclusions.
Having researched this exact subject myself for two years and having published the results as my MSc thesis I am surprised this non-sense is published again, as the result of some curious mind or maybe some desperate attempt for attention.
Misguiding information...cancer did exist in ancient societies.
What man has made with the polluting agents is TO INCREASE the probability of cancerous cells to develop in a human or other mammal body. The production of cancerigenous cells is not a characteristic of modern societies; it is a bio-chemical action in the body, either caused by genetic factors or environmental ones.
It seems, from reading this, that one author HAS NOT READ WHAT I WROTE IN MY THESIS, SUPERVISED BY HER in 2008 and published in 2009.
Plenty of carcinogenic substances in nature (such as tar, the smoke from pollution in industry, transportation, oils, and gases) can be the causes of many cancers, either in humans or primates.
Mummified Egyptians were, in their majority, noble people who spent their lives in leisure and protected environments, thus not exposed to the dust of a quarry, for example.
Life expectancy was lower (35-40), but still, we find traces of cancer in bones and mummified tissue, so it did exist.
But not so frequently as today.
They used lead and other toxic minerals as ingredients for cosmetics and medicines.
Funghi and plants also produce toxic substances (aflatoxins from Aspergillus and aristolochic from certain plants); and these were used in herbal medicines by people then.
Viruses existed and could not be seen.
Some experts comment, where this article is referred to, that the scientists who wrote it have poorly supported claims and that this should not have been enough for getting the funding for such a shallow conclusion/study.
The statement that ALL cancers are man-made is inaccurate as there are cancer rates found in primates.
Another part of the research that pops out as shallow is that, if the study is based on cancer in antiquity, the authors should have considered our ancestors on earth, the dinossaurs. And they had cancer. Bone scans have revealed tumours induck-billed species; so this article was based on scanty fossil evidence or none...
Image: Dinosaur cancer case, references below.
What about the sun?
The beta and gamma rays, the genetic mutations in all living beings on earth, the drastic environmental changes...are those not to be considered too?
From my own published work (in which I used the Ebers Papyrus as a reference for tumours' treatments and it is mentioned many times as just EP), I post here a selection of paragraphs that sustain my criticism on this shallow article/study/conclusion:
(...) All diagnoses to date are controversial; what has been published since 1825 until today makes us conclude that, the average age at death being 36 years of age, shows that tumours essentially affected young people. Billiary duct infectious diseases (due to the high prevalence of infection by water snail) affected obviously the liver, but there is no reported case found of liver cancer in ancient Egypt so far. Nasopharyngeal and uterus carcinomas were the most common and rarer cancers such as breast and colorectal may be attributed to a fat enriched diet. (...)
(...) Although computed tomography (CT) can reveal different layers of tissue, separate objects such as amulets, that can be identified; and reveal bones that can be located in regard to their position in the cartonnage; when we deal with an unwrapped mummy, little evidence of soft tissue tumours has been found. There are, nevertheless, more examples of bone tumours detected in ancient Egyptian mummies, but still they are a minimal amount in comparison to present statistics. (Harris 2007: 201) (...)
(...) The appearance of cancer is due to the transformation of normal cells into cancer cells. According to recent studies in oncogenesis, the concerted changes in the expression of those genes are crucial to provide insight into the mechanisms underlying malignancy. (Luo and Elledge, 2008) (...)
(...) Also, cancer is more commonly a disease of the elderly. As the life expectancy in antiquity was considerably lower than today, this may be one of the reasons; also the changing habits of populations, the indoor environment to which we are all more exposed now is characterized by particular types of pollution like radon gas, uranium, and other heavy metal ores. (Capasso, 2005) (...)
(...) Egyptian oncologists report that asbestos has been recognized in ancient Egypt as it was used in mummification, wrapping bodies in asbestos clothes to offset the ravages of time. Mesothelioma, a tumour of mesothelial cells, increasing today due to the long latency period (30-40 years) is the cancer of toxic origin that results from exposure to this chemical. (Gaafar and Eldin, 2005); (Abratt et al., 2004). (...)
 Known in ancient Egypt as the magic rock, is mentioned by Pliny (Circo 2004); Chrysotile asbestos, the fibrous variety of the mineral serpentine, forms in metamorphic rock, that is, rock that has been altered by intense heat and pressure.
 These cells line the body's serous cavities and internal organs and lubricating the layers; a mesothelioma, cancer of the mesothelium happens when cells of the mesothelium become abnormal and divide uncontrolably invading and damaging nearby tissues and organs most frequently in the pleura or peritoneum (by inhalation of asbestos). More than 90% of mesothelioma cases are linked to asbestos exposure (Asbestos Resource Centre 2008)
 There is a record of an analysis made to a mummy from a priestess of Thebes, c. 1500 a. C., at The Royal College of Surgeons Museum in London, regarding a well preserved gall bladder containing 30 calculi; unfortunately, this mummy was destroyed by German bombings from the II WW, as stated by Knut Haeger in The Illustrated History of Surgery. A more recent example from this kind of pathology, linked to liver and bile duct and gallbladder; the famous Umm Kulthum, Arabic song diva, (May 4, 1904 –Feb, 3, 1975), became sick in the 1930s and, at the end of the summer of 1937, doctors recommended treatment with mineral waters. Next summer, Umm Kulthum spent a month at Vichy and came back to Egypt feeling better, although, according to her: «I am restricted by a rigid and limiting diet that forbids most part of foods». She later died of nephrites, a kidney inflammation provoked by an infection.
(...) The incidence of cancer in ancient Egypt seems to have been much less due probably to: shorter expectation of life, and the absence of carcinogenic factors in the environment (Nunn 1996: 64), 81; 75% of human cancers are related to environmental factors, a characteristic of industrialized societies (Zimmerman, 1977). However, diseases found in Egypt today are not very different from the ones that afflicted the ancient population if we consider parasitical infections.
Both environment and diet are factors to be considered in the analysis of cancer in ancient Egypt (Ebeid 1999: 114).
Another author says that cancers in ancient Egypt should be detected in wealthier individuals as their diet and sedentary type of living made them more prone to this kind of pathology and that these cancers must have been incurable for sure. (Halperin, 2004)
The diet factor is really difficult to consider as the people belonging to upper social status had access to beef and wine and other different foods than the ones on lower status of the society. Up to what point does this difference in eating has relevance to the incidence of cancer is really uncertain.
The type of living, sedentary or more active is another arguing factor as the populous
working class of ancient Egypt were more exposed to infections as they worked outdoors, most of them and the majority in contact with Nile water, a source of pathogens. (...)
Quoting one of the authors, in my conclusions' chapter which is, alledgelly, the first an adviser reads...:
(...) Zimmerman also said that, ‘There are only a handful of reports of tumours in ancient remains.’ (Zimmerman, 1977) We can now add some more to the reported cases thanks to the development of techniques and studies done on material found in excavation sites, which were not available before. Later on, this author’s experimental work suggested that malignant tumour cells would survive better than benign (Aufderheide 2003: 452). (...)
(...) There is reason to think, from studies done on the EP, that oncology was a fact in ancient Egypt. Ancient Egyptian doctors already had some information that enabled them to diagnose and treat cancers, although the literary sources do not clearly describe how they distinguish an abscess from a pustule or neoplasia (Temkin, 1938); (Meyerhof, 1926). (...)
(...) This does not mean, of course, that greater excavation activity in Egypt will necessarily reveal more cases of tumours, but it is an indicator that, as well as the fact that this population may have been less exposed to this diseases, there is also a lack of material to study. This is not only because this type of disease is difficult to detect in ancient tissues (including bone tissue) but also because not everything has been excavated yet. (...)
Veiga, Paula, 2009, Oncology and Infectious Diseases in Ancient Egypt: The Ebers Papyrus' Treatise on Tumours 857-877 andthe cases found in ancient Egyptian human material, VDM Verlag
Rothschild, B. M. , Tanke, D. H. , Helbling, M. II & Martin, L.D. . Epidemiologic study of tumors in dinosaurs. Naturwissenschaften, published online, doi:10.1007/s00114-003-0473-9 (2003).
Dinosaur Tumor Studied for Human Cancer Clues, http://www.livescience.com/health/060403_dino_med.html
From National Geographic News:
First Dinosaur Brain Tumor Found, Experts Suggest
Rothschild's own research, the first wide survey of cancer in dinosaurs, was published in the November edition of the German science journal Naturwissenschaften. His team x-rayed the bones of hundreds of dinosaurs in museums across the United States. They found 29 tumors—all in hadrosaurs, a particularly cancer-prone group of duck-billed dinosaur.
Also check a publication in which one of the authors (adviser of my thesis on Cancer in ancient Egypt) is referenced:
Capturing a century of study: the search for the human remains from the first Archaeological Survey of Nubia (1907-1911)
where a case of cancer in ancient Egypt is shown.
Check also Paleo-oncology
Check also, and with attention the last case found, from my knowledge, and it was found right here, in Lisboa, at the Archaeology Museum, of the probable oldest case of prostate cancer in a mummy from ancient Egypt. An excellent study conducted by Dr. Prates, and assisted by my dear Dr. Salima Ikram; a project also featured here in my blog, that found traces that might lead to a probable diagnosis of prostate cancer, shown by the metastasis on the vertebral bodies of this man.
Original article in:
Prostate metastatic bone cancer in an Egyptian Ptolemaic mummy, a proposed radiological diagnosis
Check also Dr. Capasso's article: Antiquity of Cancer.
And I hope I don't have to repost this, for the sake of the authors of this non-sense as they will be faced with more recent discoveries of new cases contradicting their faint claims...
Lisbon case of probable prostate cancer above depicted, images from the original scientific article.