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.
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.
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.
You made some good points there. I checked on the internet for more information about the issue and found most individuals will go along with your views on this site.
Pretty! This was a really wonderful post. Thanks for supplying this info.
I truly love your site.. Very nice colors & theme. Did you develop this website yourself? Please reply back as I’m wanting to create my very own blog and would love to find out where you got this from or exactly what the theme is named. Cheers!
Hello there, I do believe your site could possibly be having web browser compatibility issues. When I take a look at your blog in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping issues. I just wanted to provide you with a quick heads up! Apart from that, great site!
Very good information. Lucky me I came across your blog by accident (stumbleupon). I have book marked it for later!
combigan generic prices brimonidine use
Aw, this was a very nice post. Taking a few minutes and actual effort to make a great article… but what can I say… I put things off a whole lot and never manage to get anything done.
This website was... how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I've found something which helped me. Appreciate it!
Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon every day. It's always exciting to read through articles from other writers and use a little something from their websites.
I blog frequently and I really thank you for your information. Your article has truly peaked my interest. I'm going to book mark your website and keep checking for new details about once a week. I subscribed to your RSS feed as well.
cost of cialis https://tadalafilww.com/ cialis cost tadalafil goodrx tadalafil generic
prescription tadalafil online tadalafil cost walmart tadalafil order online no prescription tadalafil side effects https://tadalafilol.com/
Everything is very open with a precise explanation of the issues. It was truly informative. Your website is very helpful. Thank you for sharing!
tadalafil cost in canada tadalafil liquid tadalafil order online no prescription where to order tadalafil tablets https://tadacipetadalafil.com/
Congratulations on the content. Interesting. 369335977 9830552
ParabÃ©ns pelo site e pelas dicas estÃ¡ ajudando muito! 524057404
Congratulations on the content. Interesting. 632739993 8603990
Legal! Ã“timo conteÃºdo, com bom entendimento. Obrigada. 409961316
Great article. I will be experiencing some of these issues as well..
Congratulations, Great article. 810866383
Very good article. I'm dealing with a few of these issues as well..
combigan side effects buy generic brimonidine
https://cttadalafil.com/ generic tadalafil from uk cost tadalafil generic buy tadalis buy cialis pills
Next time I read a blog, Hopefully it won't fail me just as much as this particular one. After all, Yes, it was my choice to read, nonetheless I truly believed you would probably have something useful to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of moaning about something that you could fix if you weren't too busy seeking attention.
Aw, this was an incredibly good post. Taking a few minutes and actual effort to make a good article… but what can I say… I put things off a whole lot and never manage to get nearly anything done.
Otimo conteudo parabens. Gostei do site. 673439838
Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon every day. It's always interesting to read through content from other writers and use something from their websites.
buy cialis tadalafil generic cialis tadalafil buy tadalis https://tadagatadalafil.com/ – tadalafil goodrx
Pretty! This has been an extremely wonderful post. Thanks for supplying this information.
This website truly has all of the information and facts I needed concerning this subject and didn’t know who to ask.
https://tadacipetadalafil.com/ tadalafil daily online where to order tadalafil tablets tadalafil online cheap generic cialis for sale
Wonderful site. Lots of useful info here. I'm sending it to several pals ans additionally sharing in delicious. And obviously, thanks to your sweat!
Great article, I liked it very much congratulations. 766419093 3458192