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.
I truly love your blog.. Excellent colors & theme. Did you build this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as Iím wanting to create my own website and would love to find out where you got this from or just what the theme is named. Kudos!
Your style is so unique in comparison to other folks I've read stuff from. Many thanks for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I will just book mark this site.
This website truly has all of the information and facts I wanted about this subject and didnít know who to ask.
I'm really impressed with your writing skills as
well as with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme
or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the
nice quality writing, it's rare to see a great blog like this one today.
After exploring a few of the blog articles on your blog, I seriously appreciate your technique of blogging. I book-marked it to my bookmark webpage list and will be checking back soon. Please visit my web site as well and tell me how you feel.
Greetings! Very helpful advice within this article! It's the little changes which will make the biggest changes. Many thanks for sharing!
Can I simply just say what a comfort to uncover someone that really understands what they're talking about on the web. You certainly realize how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people need to check this out and understand this side of the story. I can't believe you're not more popular given that you surely possess the gift.
After going over a few of the articles on your website, I really appreciate your technique of blogging. I saved as a favorite it to my bookmark site list and will be checking back soon. Take a look at my website too and tell me how you feel.
Great info. Lucky me I came across your website by accident (stumbleupon). I have saved it for later!
Tỷ Số Soccer Trực Tuyến Ngày Hôm Naylich thi dau lckTheo thể thức thi đấu, đội thắng ở cặp đấu này sẽ giành tấm vé đến Lithuania vào ngày hội bóng đá lớn nhất thế giới cho futsal. Tuyển futsal Việt Nam bước vào trận play-off lượt đi tranh vé dự play-off World Cup 2021 với sự tự tin. Tuy vậy, HLV Phạm Minh Giang bày tỏ, toàn đội không ngán Lebanon tuy nhiên sẽ tìm cách để khắc chế sức mạnh của đối thủ bởi trên băng ghế huấn luyện là nhà cầm quân Ramiro Lopez, người từng dẫn dắt futsal Tây Ban Nha.|Dựa vào lịch thi đấu, bạn có thể chuẩn bị xếp làm việc
You're so interesting! I don't suppose I've read something like this before. So wonderful to discover another person with a few genuine thoughts on this subject matter. Seriously.. thanks for starting this up. This website is something that is required on the internet, someone with some originality!
You've made some good points there. I looked on the net for additional information about the issue and found most people will go along with your views on this web site.
Best view i have ever seen !
There is certainly a lot to learn about this topic. I love all of the points you've made.
I absolutely love your site.. Excellent colors & theme. Did you develop this site yourself? Please reply back as Iím wanting to create my own website and would love to find out where you got this from or exactly what the theme is named. Many thanks!
Everything is very open with a clear explanation of the issues. It was truly informative. Your site is extremely helpful. Many thanks for sharing!
Your style is so unique compared to other people I've read stuff from. Thank you for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this site.
bookmarked!!, I really like your web site!
You're so cool! I do not think I've read anything like that before. So great to discover another person with unique thoughts on this subject matter. Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up. This web site is one thing that is required on the internet, someone with a bit of originality!
Coi Trực Tiếp Bóng Đátruc tiep vl1Theo thể thức thi đấu, đội thắng ở cặp đấu này sẽ giành tấm vé đến Lithuania trong ngày hội bóng đá lớn nhất thế giới đến futsal. Tuyển futsal Việt Nam bước vào trận play-off lượt đi tranh vé dự play-off World Cup 2021 với sự tự tin. Tuy vậy, HLV Phạm Minh Giang bày tỏ, toàn đội ko ngán Lebanon song sẽ tìm cách để khắc chế sức mạnh của đối thủ bởi trên băng ghế huấn luyện là nhà cầm quân Ramiro Lopez, người từng dẫn dắt futsal Tây Ban Nha.|Dựa vào lịch tranh tài, bạn hoàn toàn có thể chuẩn bị xếp công việc
Saved as a favorite, I love your blog!
Good site you've got here.. Itís hard to find good quality writing like yours nowadays. I truly appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!
Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thank you so much, However I am going through troubles with your RSS. I donít know the reason why I am unable to join it. Is there anyone else getting identical RSS issues? Anyone that knows the answer will you kindly respond? Thanx!!
I seriously love your website.. Great colors & theme. Did you make this site yourself? Please reply back as Iím trying to create my own website and would love to find out where you got this from or what the theme is named. Thanks!
This is the perfect site for anyone who hopes to find out about this topic. You understand so much its almost tough to argue with you (not that I really would want toÖHaHa). You certainly put a fresh spin on a topic that has been written about for decades. Excellent stuff, just excellent!