home
RSS
How the ancient world dealt with cancer
October 14th, 2010
06:15 PM ET

How the ancient world dealt with cancer

Cancer is widespread today, but it doesn't appear to have been in the ancient world. Why not?

Researchers are learning more about the history of cancer and how civilizations have treated it.

A study in the journal Nature Reviews Cancer suggests that cancer has become a more common disease only recently, because of modern lifestyle.

Rosalie David, professor at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom and Michael Zimmerman, professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, explored the evidence of cancer in the fossil record of early humans, in ancient Egypt and in ancient Greece. They argue that modern carcinogens - such as tobacco and pollution - may have contributed to the apparent rise in cancer in the last several hundred years.

However, there are many reasons why this is a tenuous conclusion: No one can conduct a survey of ancient populations. The risk of cancer rises with age, and people only started living longer more recently. Cancer is also highly genetic. To say that pollution has helped make cancer prevalent is highly controversial, said James Olson, historian at Sam Houston State University in Texas.

But certainly smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise all contribute to cancer in the modern world, Olson said.

Still, the paper makes some interesting points about the historical record of cancer, he said.

There are very few indications of cancer in early human remains, and possibilities that have been found have been disputed, the analysis said. In Egypt, out of hundreds of mummies only one case of cancer has been confirmed: Zimmerman's experiments on modern mummified tissue suggest that mummification does not destroy evidence of the malignancy - he and colleagues found colorectal cancer in a mummy.

The ancient Egyptians wrote about many magical spells they used to treat cancer-like illnesses, a few of which are described in papyri. Here's one particularly gruesome remedy for what may have been cancer of the uterus: Break up a stone in water, leave it overnight, and then pour it into the vagina. Another treatment described was fumigation: The patient would sit over something that was burning. Still, it's not certain that any of the maladies described were actually cancer, David said.

Ancient Greece first identified cancer as a specific illness, the analysis said. It appears that the Greeks had a better knowledge and awareness of cancer than their predecessors, which is a more likely explanation than an increase in cancer, David and Zimmerman said.

In Ancient Greece, cancer gets referenced in the Hippocratic Corpus- texts said to have been written by the "father of medicine" Hippocrates between 410 and 360 B.C.
These texts say that an excess of black bile causes cancer. "Hippocrates used the carcinos (crab) and carcinoma to desribe a range of tumours and swellings," David and Zimmerman wrote. The Roman physician Galen of Pergamum said around 200 A.D. that this was because some cancers appeared crab-like.

Ancient Greeks knew that a mastectomy would help a patient with a lump in her breast, but they also recognized that cancer can recur and spread to other parts of the body.

"They recommended an unbelievable variety of potions, and plant extracts, and combinations to see if they couldn’t kill the cancer in other places," Olson said. "None of those worked."

It can be argued that since life expectancy was lower in the ancient world, most people didn't live long enough to develop cancer, David said. But the lack of evidence of childhood bone cancer suggests that perhaps overall rates were lower as well, she said.

From about 500 to 1500 A.D. there was little advancement in understanding cancer, the analysis said. Then, in the 17th century, Wilhelm Fabricus described operations for breast and other cancers. Cancer rates appear to have increased since the Industrial Revolution, David said. In the past 200 years, reports of specific cancers such as scrotal cancer and Hodgkin's disease have emerged.

Here's an overview from the American Cancer Society of the history of cancer.


soundoff (926 Responses)
  1. Internet Marketing Masters

    Everything is very open with a clear clarification of the challenges. It was truly informative. Your site is very useful. Thank you for sharing!

    http://jbs-swift-meats.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 7, 2021 at 23:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. vinyl wrap motorhome

    http://www.silverspringtownship.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=ocrvcenter.com

    May 7, 2021 at 23:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. vans store orange county

    http://www.miamifamilyoffice.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=ocrvcenter.com

    May 7, 2021 at 23:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Content Marketing Pictures

    Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thank you, However I am encountering problems with your RSS. I don’t know the reason why I am unable to subscribe to it. Is there anybody getting identical RSS issues? Anyone who knows the answer will you kindly respond? Thanks!!

    https://www.winetown.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 7, 2021 at 23:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Content Marketing Business

    Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon on a daily basis. It's always helpful to read articles from other writers and use a little something from other web sites.

    http://ablaise.org/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 7, 2021 at 23:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. furniture restoration orange county

    http://www.asylumproductions.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=ocrvcenter.com

    May 8, 2021 at 00:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Internet Marketing Quote

    I truly love your website.. Very nice colors & theme. Did you create this web site yourself? Please reply back as I’m attempting to create my own blog and want to learn where you got this from or just what the theme is named. Thanks!

    https://www.ise-consulting.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 02:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Digital Marketing Specialist

    https://bitrum.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 02:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Internet Marketing Agencies

    Hello! I could have sworn I’ve visited this blog before but after looking at many of the posts I realized it’s new to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely delighted I came across it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back frequently!

    http://bart-stewart.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 02:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Content Marketing Associations

    Your style is unique in comparison to other folks I've read stuff from. Thank you for posting when you've got the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this web site.

    http://legaleasy.net/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 04:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Content Marketing California

    Very good write-up. I absolutely appreciate this website. Thanks!

    https://www.figge.net/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 09:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Google Marketing Quotes

    https://duispecialists.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 09:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Hexclad Frying Pan Review

    I precisely had to appreciate you once again. I am not sure what I would have tried without these secrets discussed by you about my question. It has been a real hard difficulty in my position, nevertheless being able to see this expert avenue you treated that forced me to weep over fulfillment. I am thankful for this service and thus believe you recognize what an amazing job you happen to be providing educating most people by way of your website. I'm certain you've never come across all of us.

    https://www.sekasao.go.th/sekaforum/profile.php?id=820854

    May 8, 2021 at 11:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Social Media Marketing Companies

    http://www.omegavector.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 11:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Seo Marketing Help

    https://www.smyw.org/cgi-bin/atc/out.cgi?id=190&u=https://www.affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 11:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Digital Marketing Consultant

    http://poweradegame.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Content Marketing Service

    bookmarked!!, I really like your site!

    http://dermatologyassociation.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 13:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Social Media Marketing Market

    Saved as a favorite, I really like your blog!

    http://www.casaldesaosimao.com/?wptouch_switch=desktop&redirect=http://www.affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 13:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Content Marketing Irvine

    http://partswise.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=affordableranking.com

    May 8, 2021 at 13:57 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Leave a Reply to https://www.songmanhits.com


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

Advertisement
About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.