Form of spreading cancer found in 3,200-year-old skeleton in Sudan

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 March, 2014, 9:26pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 March, 2014, 9:26pm


Archaeologists have found the 3,200-year-old skeleton of a man with a spreading form of cancer, the oldest example so far of a disease often associated with modern lifestyles, scientists said.

The remains of a man believed to be aged between 25 and 35 were found last year in a tomb in Sudan on the banks of the River Nile by a student at England's Durham University.

The bones showed evidence of metastatic carcinoma, or a malignant soft-tumour cancer which had spread from the original site to other parts of the body, although it was not possible to say if he died from the disease.

"This may help us to understand the almost unknown history of the disease. We have very few examples pre the first millennium AD," said Michaela Binder, who found the skeleton.

Small lesions on the bones could only have been caused by a soft tissue cancer. The cause could have been environmental, perhaps from carcinogens in wood fire smoke, genetic or from the parasite schistosomiasis, which still causes bladder and breast cancer in the area.

The research team from Durham University and the British Museum said that although cancer was currently one of the world's leading causes of death, it had until now been almost absent from archaeological finds.