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 (2,770 Responses)
  1. Tanja

    I see more and more of these ridiculous ‘studies’ to tell us the obvious.
    Yes, as we live longer, we are at higher risk of any kind of disease including cancer. I don’t need a study to tell me that! Waste of time and money.

    October 15, 2010 at 11:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Don

    People didn't live long enough to get the worst cancers we have. Also, people with childhood cancers died before they reached reproductive age and couldn't pass on their defective genes to another generation. Survival of the fittest; I come from a cancer-ridden family, I've no intentions of breeding.

    October 15, 2010 at 11:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • shannon

      Childhood cancer survivors don't generally have children today, either. Many cancer treatments are very damaging to reproductive cells. They can and do adopt, use donated sperm/eggs, etc, become doting Aunts/Uncles/Godparents. Humans are one of the few species where even non-reproductive members are important to the survival of the group/tribe/culture. Think of why women can live many, many years past the age where they can reproduce and you'll get a hint of why. And the special relationship grandparents have with their grandchildren. A life is worth living beyond the genetic contribution of an individual to offspring.

      October 17, 2010 at 09:50 | Report abuse |
  3. Lydia

    The other day my dad was talking about how when he was young, it was hard to find more than one person that had cancer, was currently fighting cancer, or had died of it. His grandfather's first wife had died of cancer, but other than that, he struggled to name anyone he knew of personally that had suffered from it. Now, I could easilly point out ten people in my life that had had cancer, have cancer now, or have passed from it. My dad and uncle were both diagnosed with cancer, my dad at just 45 years old. My coworker, at 19, had bone cancer in her leg. Another coworker had breast cancer, another has colon cancer, a neighbor has stomach cancer, my mother had to have a hysterectomy because of "benign" tumors that were causing her to slowly bleed to death... The list goes on and on.

    Life expectancy has varied throughout the ages, depending on region, culture, knowledge, diet, and circumstances. In some places, life expectancy was comparable with how we live today. Because of good diet and clean living, it wasn't unusual for people to live into their 60's or 70's. In other places, filthy living conditions and a diet of almost nothing but old meat and moldy bread meant shorter life expectancy, where 45 was "old age" and most children never survived to see their third birthday. I don't consider the life expectancy of the past to be a huge factor in determining the trend towards cancer, because there are a multitude of cancers striking relatively young, otherwise healthy human beings and alarming rates, and if these cancers existed at the same rates they do today, we would see more evidence of them in human remains. It's not just old people getting cancer, and it's not just the fact that we only recently figured out what cancer is. There are ways to find out if cancer was around "back then", and we're just not finding it. Not the way it exists today.

    Why is it so hard to admit that our way of life is poisoning us? Yeah, it's great, we don't die of smallpox when we're babies anymore, but just because we got rid of one plague doesn't mean we have to trade it for another. Preservatives help keep our food longer, but do we really need sodium acid pyrophosphate to make our marshmallows and bread fluffier? Or Calcium Disodium to preserve the color of our canned beans? Or Monosodium glutamate to make our beef stew taste beefier? We pump our food, drink, and bodies so full of chemicals every day that haven't been tested, or are known to be toxic (sodium acid pyrophosphate, for example.) and we don't need to. There is no reason for us to be ingesting these chemicals besides the fact that it's easier for big companies to make a buck on us that way. We've been brainwashed to think that cheaper and tastier is better, even if it comes with a slew of undesired toxins.

    Just because we're not dying of horrible diseases anymore doesn't mean we should accept being poisoned to death as an alternative.

    October 15, 2010 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Justin

    So if every scientist and doctor is posting here on CNN, who's saving the world? Get a life. You're all as good as dead anyway; stop worrying about how you're going to get there and enjoy being here while you can. BURP...

    October 15, 2010 at 11:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lydia

      So... if they're all doctors and scientists, that would make you, what? A life coach?

      October 15, 2010 at 12:01 | Report abuse |
  5. Ana 12345

    My great-grandparents lived in their 100s, my grandparends lived in their 90s, my parents in their 70s, what about my generation?

    October 15, 2010 at 11:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. GSK

    I always wondered where do they get the information that ancient people did not live long lives, yet most known people from ancient history lived quite long lives. Pythagoras – 75, Aristotle – 62, Archimedes – 75, Thales of Miletus – 76,

    October 15, 2010 at 11:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Shannon the Archaeologist

      What about the countless millions of normal Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Scythians, etc. who were not famous or well-off and could not afford the best medical care? They would have most likely lived much shorter lives.

      October 15, 2010 at 12:27 | Report abuse |
    • Jim Bellmore

      From what I've read, people did live to see 50, 60 and older. But many died before the age of 5. The source, which I admit I can't find, stated that when you average these things out (many not living into their teens, etc) the result reads as a lower age, for instance 35. The source explained that this has been misinterpreted by many, and does not mean that people rarely seen 40. Bottom line, if you survived into your teens, you very likely lived to 60.

      October 23, 2014 at 11:37 | Report abuse |
  7. Lawrence

    It comes from a misunderstanding of statistics and the word 'average'. If the average were corrected for child mortality it would be much, much higher.

    October 15, 2010 at 12:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • aviodont

      Right on Lawrence. Mean, median and mode. Taking out childhood mortality, they likely lived until 70-80.


      April 17, 2016 at 08:43 | Report abuse |
  8. Mike Distance

    We live at the peak of intelligence and technology.
    There are more people in the world, more chance to breed weaker people more susceptible to disease.
    I'm tired of people blaming corporations, drug companies, technology and science for cancer.
    Sure we know that Cigarettes cause cancer, but no one can prove that anything else causes cancer. If people get cancer it is because they are weak and they don't take care of themselves. The FDA and the rest of the government organizations would NEVER allow food, additives, chemical use or any other poisons that would cause cancer. They are elected by the people for the people. So relax folks, if you get cancer it is because you are weak or because God wants it.

    October 15, 2010 at 12:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • GSK

      Mike Distance, technological advancement has been causing high pollution to the environment and that's a fact( but that is unavoidable since we can't get to green energy without first going using simpler ideas) . We know about many carcinogens that cause cancers so get your facts straight. And that last sentence about GOD? lol !!! you're so ignorant... So according to you if GOD exists he is one evil being , correct? lol

      October 15, 2010 at 12:26 | Report abuse |
    • Lydia

      You start out your post with "We live at the peak of intelligence and technology", but close it with "if you get cancer, it is because you are weak or because God wants it." I find your logic tragic and sad.

      Also, the FDA already allows numerous chemicals in our food that are known to be toxic. The belief is that because they're in such small quantities, that they won't hurt us, but really, any amount of poison in my food is too much. It must be nice to have so much faith in the FDA and the government, but unfortunately, I can't share your rosey opinion of them, because I've actually been paying a smidgen of attention.

      October 15, 2010 at 12:29 | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      Cancer is caused by weakness?... Lance Armstrong

      October 15, 2010 at 13:09 | Report abuse |
    • Mike Distance

      GSK, if you think God is evil, then you are evil.

      Lydia, please keep your conspiracy theories to yourself, no one wants to hear them.

      Kyle, Lance Armstrong became strong because he overcame his cancer, not before.

      October 15, 2010 at 13:39 | Report abuse |
    • LD50

      Lydia, apples and grapes, for example, naturally contain small amounts of cyanide. They aren't pollutants from modern society, they are made by the plants themselves as a defense mechanism. Any fruit-eating animal threatening to destroy all of a plants reproductive vehicles (fruits) are sometimes deterred or killed by small amounts of poison. Stupid horses who eat large quantities of ripe apples falling off trees in their pasture will dye or be sickened from cyanide poisoning. It really is quantity along with identity and if you believe in homeopathy, the very tenet behind it is introduction of small amounts of the same poison thought to afflict a patient is applied to have the patient develop a tolerance. I think homeopathy is right in terms of immunization but crap in every other way. However, small amounts of poison below the threshold (no-mass dose) is harmless. That is how people become immune to snake venom (via serial vaccination) and a small amount of weakened virus enables immunity to larger doses of live virus. What is allowed into foods today by the FDA? Some known toxins at high or low dose and many unknown. You can't penalize for what we don't know and ultimately due to package labeling: caveat emptor. Don't like it? Don't eat it.

      October 15, 2010 at 14:33 | Report abuse |
  9. Shannon the Archaeologist

    I agree that modern pollutants and diets have made cancer more prevalent in modern populations than in ancient ones, and that the fact that we're generally living longer is a factor, as well. There are other reasons, though, that cancer might appear less often in ancient times. There is the fact that most cancers exist in soft tissues, which decompose after death. Most people in ancient cultures weren't mummified so we would have no physical record of cancers. To further skew the results, most ancient cultures didn't keep meticulous written medical records like the Egypians, Greeks and Romans.

    October 15, 2010 at 12:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joselin

      Gary Glassmeyer January 24, 2011 at 1:35 pmI have been a prostate cceanr survivor for 13 years. My Gleason score was 8.0. I first received Proton Beam radiation, then Cryosurgery, then Hormone treatment (Zolzdex), after my PSA began to rise yet again I went on a 100% VEGAN (plant foods only) diet which kept my PSA level for two years. My PSA is rising again, but I am trying going back on hormone treatment and enjoying everyday to its maximum.UPDATE 5/10/11: After one injection of Lupron (hormone) my PSA is down from 12.5 to 2.8 never give up never quit trying. I am currently off of Lupron and taking two small Casodex pills each day.Thank you for the Malecare.org website — it is the best, most concise, up-to-date information I have seen on the web in all my years of searching.Gary Glassmeyer

      November 14, 2012 at 02:49 | Report abuse |
  10. Kyle

    What about the fact that with medical advances comes an increase in survival rate of cancer patients? Since cancer is highly genetic, the genes that increase the likelihood of developing cancer are proliferated through time, resulting in higher cancer rates.

    October 15, 2010 at 13:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jimmy

      Cancer is not generally inherited. You mainly develop cancer due to environmental factors that influence gene expression. For example, carcinogens found in the air today are likely to cause damage to DNA causing mutations that turn off cell control / cell death. Besides most people can use the natural selection argument for all diseases; as long as they don't reproduce, their off spring won't get it, but it doesn't work when we know cancer is not caused by inheritance but more so along the lines of epigenetics.

      November 24, 2010 at 11:13 | Report abuse |
  11. DW

    They didn't have cancer because they didn't eat the fake, processed foods we do today. Smoking or drugs was really not an issue as today. We just have unhealthy lifestyles with a lot of factors that contribute.

    October 15, 2010 at 13:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. ZML

    It's amazing that so many have opinions, and even quote outside sources, but it seems no one has read the difinitive answer on why we get cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other major modern diseases: THE CHINA STUDY, by Joel Fuhrman, MD.
    Read the book, then let me know what you think. I believe many research teams are missing the point entirely and this book will tell you why... but prepared, this isn't an easy read!

    October 15, 2010 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Jorge

    My paternal grandfather ate out of what he grew on his plantation for most of his adult life at a time and in a place where using modern agricultural chemicals, growth hormones and genetically engineered feed was unheard of, he grew and cured his own tobacco and rolled his own cigars, he made his own rum in a riveted still made of pure copper, he grew his own vegetables, livestock and pressed his own olive oil, when he met my grandmother in 1923 he was a widower in his early '40s and she bore him 10 children, he went everywhere on horseback or on foot and rode in his first car in 1949. When I met him for the first time in 1969 he recounted to me how during a cattle run he saw Spanish soldiers fleeing for the hills and U.S. Marines chasing after them on horseback and towing mountain howitzers with mule trains during the Spanish-American War. He died peacefully in his sleep in 1974 and one of the things I ponder today in my '50s is that in fitness and in health, as well as many other things, I could not possibly aspire to be half the man that he ever was. That is enough evidence for me.

    October 15, 2010 at 13:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • paternity

      Jorge, if your father regularly squished his boys on a saddle and his much younger wife had 10 kids, you and some of your siblings may not be directly decended from this stalwart-sounding man. This is why children should always take their mother's last name.

      October 15, 2010 at 14:40 | Report abuse |
    • Mike Distance

      Jorge sounds, like you are just another conspiracy theorist who fears the big bad evil Genetically modified foods for no reason! Corporations such as Monsato will rid the world of hunger, they do not cause death and disease. What an absurd world we live in where the hero's and those dedicating to helping others and feeding others are demonized. The liberal media sure have distorted everything. Thankfully the FDA did not cave to the conspiracy freaks and require genetically modified foods and ingredients to be labeled as such, this would have just caused undo racism against these foods. When in reality these genetically modified foods are scientifically proven to be more nutritious and healthier than over priced organic foods. It is truly sad time to live amongst all these paranoid people who fear everything and don't trust anyone. The best way to deal with these kinds of people is to ask for proof, show me proof that organic food is worth the extra 50% in cost, when in fact it is inferior food. The truth is, they have no proof only fear. Show me proof that pesticides are bad for you, that genetically modified salmon is bad for you. Eat too much of anything and you will die, including water!

      October 15, 2010 at 15:26 | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Actually, Mike, birth control is the only proven way to prevent hunger. Your condescending attitude is deplorable.

      October 15, 2010 at 18:27 | Report abuse |
    • Gayle63

      Jorge, cancer discussion aside, your grandfather sounds like he was an amazing man who led a great life! How cool that he got to share those memories with you! I'm envious. 🙂

      October 26, 2014 at 13:21 | Report abuse |
  14. danceonedge

    The increase in cancer comes from all the poison that our modern technology is producing. The notion that we have increased the lifespan is a lie, and mostly reflects the fact that infant mortality has been almost erased. The quality of life for everyone except the rich is declining very rapidly.

    October 15, 2010 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. heritability

    Cancers occurring in older individuals may not have been detected in earlier times because the life expectancy was shorter (and lots of people die WITH cancer, not from it). Young children who developed cancer in the ancient world would have no medicines to help them live to childbearing age and then pass their genes on to others. In today's world, we have so many treatments to extend life that many people do pass their maladaptive genes on to the next generation(s) and thus gradually load the population with them. Consider all the women who require caesarian sections to birth their babies because their pelvis isn't wide enough to pass a 6-7 lb baby. Many of these offspring will be required to do the same because they will have the same weakness. French and British bulldogs are an excellent, if non-human, example of breeding for looks and not viability. If we want to be healthy, we have to be increasingly dependant on medicine or let Nature take its course. Since everybody wants to have their own babies despite horrible, heritable diseases, we'd better be happy with modern medicine and quit bitchin about our ailments because sick mommies + sick daddies = sick children. Environment plays a large role in triggering illness but mostly in vulnerable individuals.

    October 15, 2010 at 14:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Canadian eh

    I believe that cancer is more prevalent due to the fact that many things are now in the environment that weren't 3,000 years ago. I also believe that many of these poisons in the environment are all man made and have been either emitted through exhausts from vehicles or industrial areas or simply introduced to the environment "to see what happens". There is also the fact that the human body can only be bombarded with chemicals and other forms of body absorbing materials such as microwaves that stay in a human body and eventually lead to cancers or other diseases. I never knew a child with allergies to nuts when I was a child. PB&J was synomous with school lunches, now they cannot enjoy that in case someone is allergic to peanuts. What happened to these children's immune systems ? Something from the day they were conceived is my best guess entered the egg and grew along with the fetus. Maybe it's time get rid of these cancer causing agents that we breathe in everyday.

    October 15, 2010 at 14:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • heredity

      Prior to the advent of available, stable epinephrine and education, all people with severe allergies who experienced anaphalaxis would die and perhaps before having kids. Now all those kids deathly allergic to PB&J are growing up safe and having kids of their own, many of whom are also prone to severe allergy. People are way too selfish to break the cycle and blame their illnesses on the environment instead. The environment triggers illness, yes, but mostly in those genetically susceptible. Otherwise, PB&J would be universally fatal and all people would have skin cancer. Why did I get my first skin cancer at 21? My whole damn family has it and everyone breeds. Not so for me but...my brother and cousins have all squeezed out some kids so THANK GOODNESS! Skin cancer wil continue to rear its head in our family at least!

      October 15, 2010 at 14:49 | Report abuse |
  17. Cancer Survivor

    For more cancer treatment tips and information, there is a great site from a non-profit organization called NCCN. They have all types of cancer information, treatment options, tips to go throughout your day with cancer. http://www.nccn.com/

    October 15, 2010 at 14:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. friedpix

    I'm assuming the Egyptians painted their pyramids pink every October.....blahhhh

    October 15, 2010 at 14:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. H. H. Doshi

    Modern world have develop very many things but failed to protect genes which is the cause of the cancer. There are two civilization survived in the world. One is the Indian Civilization and other the chinese civilzation. Indian Civilization have given very high priority for the woman to have only one man in their life. Indian civilization prohibated for the woman to remarry if she become a widow and very high character was expected from both men and women. If the women engages more than one partner in their life, and because of receving seminal fluid from more than one men causes abnormality in her body which is the cause of the cancer not only in her body but also in their children. All Indian have black hairs and brown eyes, while other American or Europian population you can see blond hairs and blue eyes, which is detetoriation of the genes. Bottom line woman to have only one men in their life because they are on the receiver side of the seminal fluid. It si the well know when man have sex with man and receives seminal fluid in his body we know he gets HIV. Every religion in the world puting emphasis on thou shall not be adulterous. Let God give sense to protect the Human Genes as there is no cure for cancer.

    October 15, 2010 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Kenny

    This is what happens when the FDA does such a great job in letting poison be used to produce our food supplies

    October 15, 2010 at 15:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Veggiehead

    "But the lack of evidence of childhood bone cancer suggests that perhaps overall rates were lower as well, she said." Childhood bone cancer (osteosarcoma) is a really weak example to choose for that statement. Because the flawed DNA that causes it is heritable, and because the children who had it - who would have suffered repeated bone breakage and probable bone infections - probably did not survive to have children of their own, any appearance of childhood osteosarcoma would be a dead-end in an isolated population. In the ancient world, the vast majority of people around the globe never strayed far from the place where they were born. I think that the widespread intermixing of populations (via trade and migration, and wars, and ultimately air travel) along with the effects of better nutrition on fecundity and longer lifespans, spread genetic material that would have died out if it had remained isolated. Of course, cancer is not just one thing. There are viruses that cause cancer. There are cancers that develop as a result of damaged DNA (environmental toxins), and cancers that result from the flawed DNA you were born with. There are cancers that result from your own body attacking itself (esophageal cancer and it's relation to acid reflux). To surmise that the modern world (pollution, overeating and junk food) is responsible for an increase in cancer rates is so simplistic as to be absurd.

    October 15, 2010 at 15:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gayle63

      You are right, there is no "one" cause of cancer. However, you can treat your body properly and give it the best chance of being able to fight off cancer. We all have cancer cells in us all the time, but whether or not they take hold may be in part due to the strength of our immune system, the inflammation level of our body, what other stresses our body is dealing with based on what we put into it. So preventive measures based on diet, exercise, etc. are very important. That doesn't guarantee anything, of course, but I do think the evidence is clear that not burdening your body with crappy food and a sedentary lifestyle increases your chances of living a long and healthy life. Some of the most promising new cancer treatment is immunotherapy, boosting the body's own immune system to destroy cancer.

      October 26, 2014 at 13:13 | Report abuse |
  22. morgan painter

    Since children now get cancer we should contribute that to...........?

    How about chemicals in our food, preservatives, etc.?

    Plus, people have been smoking and chewing tobacco for several centuries, how much residue might have gotten into our DNA? If it did, it could be passed along to children.

    How about electricity? we are constantly bombarded by electromagnetic waves from our homes, appliances, and satellites, TV, and radio beams. It's a wonder we don't glow in the dark.

    Do you suppose any of those are contributing factors?

    Oh, I forgot carcinogenic petroleum fumes. Next time you are filling the tank stand real close and get a good whiff.

    Some carpeting is treated with dangerous chemicals, then we bring it in the house and let our children crawl on it!

    I think it is partly due to us living longer but I bet the majority is our "modern" lifestyle.

    Don't agree? Ring me up on your cell phone and we will discuss it. Call me at I got yor numbr

    October 15, 2010 at 16:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Erica

    "There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer. So it has to be a man-made disease, down to pollution and changes to our diet and lifestyle."

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1320507/Cancer-purely-man-say-scientists-finding-trace-disease-Egyptian-mummies.html#ixzz12Sx48Tka

    October 15, 2010 at 17:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. eden

    To treat uterus cancer they put What Where?!?! And then some say that the Law on hygiene, quarantine, and disease prevention that Moses gave to Isreal back then, came from his studies in Egypt... Oy Vey!

    October 15, 2010 at 20:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Jackie

    Leukemia is generally proceeded by pneumonia. Before antibiotics those people died. So we had a surprising increase in leukemia in the sixties .My dad died it. And sure enough, he'd had a pneumonia a couple of years earlier. And it was diagnosed following another bout. As for other kinds of cancers. . Greek is early enough for me. I read that the Egyptian doctors had guidelines. There were diseases which were known to be ones for which a physician was obligated to say, "this is a disease with which I will not contend." I read that as including cancers. But I dos know. Most career does happen ii old age. And most cultures had a pyramidal age age structure until recently.

    October 15, 2010 at 23:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. allan

    this is a useless news i believe, the information provided here are just theoretical in nature, you see, those are just theories advantageous to the researcher but not on the reader, this is misleading. In this article, I can't see any proven method in the ancient times that is applicable today..

    October 15, 2010 at 23:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. sevoruco

    Why people believe all they read,all this is bullshit are make up stories by somes dudes who have a PHD and call themselves experts in ancient history and make a living as con men bullshitting people so they can get funds and grants from the government to continue to travel,eat in good restaurants and make a living sitting in their asses while fools believe their make up stories. They shouldget an honest day work job.

    October 16, 2010 at 23:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Drneutrino

    You are all right and all wrong. What is ironic is that the camp that favors it as "genetic" never realizes that the human species (which includes most of the posters here) is in a constant state of mutation and have been since the beginning of time. This is due to environment, food, exposure, and a million other reasons. It is what happens. That said, many DNA breaks that occurred in Ancient times are with us here today in the descendants of those who survived and had children. These include the good traits and the bad that any particular change had. Each successive generation produces a greater chance of change from the beginning.

    In the past 100 years these things have escalated because we are in a dizzying spiral of genetic change due to the environmental soup we all live in. Yes, the ancients had cancer but we are speeding the DNA mutation rate up with pesticides and chemicals in our food and water.

    GO ORGANIC and save the species!

    October 17, 2010 at 06:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. almxx

    The cancer rate zoomed up after the introduction of the petroleum derived fuels and other products containing petroleum. Combine that with filthy air, soil and water, and it's worse. Add chemicals, pesticides, etc. to increase food production (endless profits, I mean) all of which screw up your hormones and body chemistry, and you have the U.S.A. of today. Sugar is the single worst food you can eat, and cancers thrive on it.

    October 18, 2010 at 03:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. K3wl

    Dr. Mary's Monkey: The Cancer Conspiracy


    October 18, 2010 at 09:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. John

    May of missed it since I was skipping alot of the insults and counter insults. They mentioned genetics once. Think about all the kids and young adults that get "cured" of cancer they go on "must" have kids to justify why they were saved from cancer. They pass those same genes on through their kids. And thanks to modern detection and treatments its a never ending cycle so your percentages will go up. Back in ancient times the kids died before they could have kids of their own. And since the average life expectancy was lower on average, except for the wealthy few (that hasn't changed over the ages) There was no late life onset. The average person who did make it past 50 couldn't afford healthcare back then either so no-one really knows what killed them.

    October 18, 2010 at 10:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. anon

    Lol so many people arguing over people just not living long enough back then; which is untrue. Besides the entire article is BS...So many here have it wrong but many have it right...Its a modern problem plain and simple. Your governments setting off hundreds of nuclear explosions, in the atmosphere, in space, on the ground, in the ocean...Electronic devices; many unsafe constantly present. Food...tons of stuff. Were causing it... Theres a current theory that the sun during its slow period has emitted more radiation this century then ever thought possible. Who knows....The US gov event put radioactive material in childrens food. Its man made; a by product of our lack of consideration to our health we've had in the pursuit of industrialization and up into the tech age. And its just being passed on in our screw'd up DNA and continuation to surround ourselves with even more electronics. Generations from now people will look back on us like we would gasp and awe at some dude running around with radiative material as cool jewelery because its glowing green. *sarcasim

    October 18, 2010 at 19:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Eeyore

      Dude, you are barely literate, and your post is nearly unintelligible. Sorry, but I don't buy whatever it is you're attempting to sell. Learn to write, and maybe your ideas will find adherents.

      October 18, 2010 at 20:09 | Report abuse |
  33. Travis

    This article has no credibility which becomes clear in that it sites Hippocrates as the father of medicine when nearly everything the Greeks understood about medicine they learned from Kmt (Egyptians). Greece didn't come into existence until AFTER 800 BCE. Kmt (Egypt) had already been in existence for well over 10,000 years based on written records. To believe that a people who had a profound understanding of celestial bodies (astronomy), physics, mathematics, architecture, etc... but knew nothing of medicine until the Greeks came along is incredibly laughable. The author fails to cite the most obvious reason to account for why cancer was rare in Kmt. It was because their lifestyles didn't facilitate the occurrence of cancer. Imagine the obvious?!?!?!

    October 19, 2010 at 00:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Jeff

    The short average lifespan in the ancient world is misleading. If a person survived to adulthood their chances of reaching age 70 were pretty good. The low average was due to an appalling childhood mortality rate, due largely to infectious diseases. The contention that cancer occurs only in the modern world strikes me as dubious since we have only been able to accurately diagnose the disease for about 100 years. In the old days, people would die of cancer and the death certificate would simply indicate "natural causes".

    October 19, 2010 at 01:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. ARC

    Cancer is a devastating disease and some folks have made some foolish commensts about whether or not someone read the article correctly. If you have ever witnessed the horror of this disease first hand, watched a loved suffer from it, lost a loved to it, or you yourself have suffered from it, you know just how unkind and awful a disease it is. We need to do more to try and find a cure, and we need to fess up to the fact that our way of life: the things we have done and continue to do to our environment and our food suppy has and is contributing to the rising rate of cancer.

    October 19, 2010 at 20:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. medchem_girl

    Hey guys!

    As a medicinal chemist, I can tell you that 35% of cancers are caused by tobacco, with an additional 35% caused by diet and obesity. So thats 70% risk of getting cancer that didn't exist 2000 years ago. There's also 15% from viruses.. we can't control that.. and another 15% from (in order of prevalence) excess alcohol, lack of exercise, UV, environmental exposure (~2%), genetics ect...

    And of course you can blame the difference in life expectancy, since it takes your body at least 8-10 mutation in ONE cell to cause cancer (this process takes usually about 20 years) but let's not be in denial about our unhealthy life styles and admit that cancer rates were very low 2000 years !
    And sure, you can use the argument

    October 20, 2010 at 20:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Chris

    In the olden days people got cancer and died probably quite a bit only they didn`t know what it was that killed them and probably blamed it on something else.

    October 21, 2010 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Austin B

    This article is missing one BIG factor as well....people until quite recently didnt live very long....today the average person cal expect to live about 68 years...in 1900 it was about 50...in ancient times you were considered old at 45...most people didnt outlive their 30s....not enough time for cancers to take much of an appearance.
    It's the same thing with Alzheimer's--only as people began to live longer, in the 19th century...is the disease given much notice...people simply didnt live long enough centuries ago for some of these diseases to take hold at the rate they do now....

    October 21, 2010 at 18:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Austin B

    ..and I need to amend my previous post....of course we had people live long lives long ago....just go through a colonial grave yard in Boston..or look through the death record for say, a town in the early 1700's..and you will find many people living well past 70, some even until 80 or 90 here and there....but the most common ages you see are aside from children, people in their 40s and 50s....cancer risk increases with age, and also I'd think many who did die from it back then were not though to have at the time....medical knowledge was crude. And of course the chemicals we have in our environment definately make the rate go up...but this article is quite misleading.....

    October 21, 2010 at 19:04 | Report abuse | Reply
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    October 25, 2010 at 14:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Custer

    What this article fails to mention is that studies clearly show that mummies do not get cancer at the same rate as humans do. The cause of this disparity is not entirely clear, but likely contributing factors may include: (1) the protection mummies are afforded from solar radiation by wearing rags head to toe and (2) the absence of many internal organs that are susceptible to cancer.

    October 26, 2010 at 16:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Stephen Stray, PhD

    I think an important point is missed here- average lifespans in the ancient world were so much shorter, largely because of infectious disease, so most people died of other causes. The small number of mummies that have been analyzed, and the fact that critical organs such as the lungs, brain etc were removed prior to mummification for the majority of the vast history of Pharaonic civilisation, make it very hard to draw credible conclusions.

    October 27, 2010 at 16:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Loory King

    Oh, we really need to dig deep into the history books to figure out that greedy corporations have been dumping chemicals in our water, mixing it in our food, altering the genetics of plants and animals, etc.; no one is putting a stop to shoving aluminum down our throats (enriched bread, antacids, deodorants, etc) even in the face of overwhelming evidence that aluminum is a main culprit in Alzheimer's disease, and the medical world remains silent!

    October 27, 2010 at 19:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. 21k

    you got put outside the village at nite. if you were still alive next morning they took you back. kind of like the republican health-care plan.

    November 19, 2010 at 14:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. John777

    I will agree with those that reason we are seeing more cancer today is because we live longer. But do you really think all the pollutants we are exposed to today are good for us? Many down play pollution until they become ill then they want to lead a vegan/green lifestyle

    November 23, 2010 at 16:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Jean-Luc

    How the ancient world dealt with cancer...they died..the same way they dealt with most illnesses. Only the strong survived. Now it's great we have cures for all ailments which are making diseases stronger and making our immune systems weak. I hope the world economy doesn't collapse and we don't descent into chaos or we're going to have some awfully sick people.

    November 24, 2010 at 10:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Jimmy

    Actually curing diseases does not make our immune system weaker. Vaccines allow our immune system to learn of the enemy therefore killing it and putting up a defense before they can come in. Cancer is caused by DNA mutations leading to uncontrolled cell division and uncontrolled cell death. This is mainly caused by environmental factors and epigenetics, things that influence gene transcription. Cancer is much more complicated than survival of the fittest my friend, even a perfect human when exposed to radiation will have problems reproducing perfect cells.

    November 24, 2010 at 11:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. GM477

    "To say that pollution has helped make cancer prevalent is highly controversial, said James Olson, historian at Sam Houston State University in Texas."

    Oh yes, so highly controversial. I'd like to see him suck on a tailpipe once a day and tell me his eventual lung cancer is from infrequent jogging. What an agenda-ridden fool.

    January 5, 2011 at 16:12 | Report abuse | Reply
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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.