FEB 12, 2019 4:55 PM PST

How Long Has Cancer Been Around?

WRITTEN BY: Amy Loriaux

Cancer is on everybody's mind these days. Many pharmaceutical companies are devoted solely to finding new cancer treatments. In 2016, President Obama called on scientists to "end cancer as we know it." and signed a $6.3 billion bill to fund drug treatment. But cancer is far from new. Queen Mary (aka "Bloody Mary") died from what is thought to have been ovarian cancer in the year 1558. But that is nothing to some older, notable cancer cases. The oldest recorded case we have was discovered in Egypt from 3000 BC The earliest evidence of cancer in hominids comes from the toe of a 1.7 million-year-old human relative found in South Africa. 

Photo source: pexels.com

Yet cancer has been around for far longer than hominids roamed the earth. Scientists in Germany recently detected a highly malignant tumor in the fossilized leg bone of a stem turtle. Drs. Nadia Fröbisch, Ph.D., of The Museum of Natural History at the Leibniz Institute, and Bruce M. Rothschild, MD, of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, collaborated on the project that revealed the oldest evidence of cancer to date. It was a malignant tumor found in a 240 million-year-old turtle bone. This suggests that cancer has been around at least since the Triassic Period, some 250 million years ago. The findings were recently published in JAMA Oncology.

The researchers used paleopathology, the study of ancient disease, to study cancer across the phylogenetic tree. This is done as a means to understand potential underlying causes; which species are more susceptible to cancer than others; and how the prevalence of cancer has changed over the course of evolution. This last point is particularly informative since there has been an increase in human cancer compared to the cases of cancer found fossil record. The increase in human cases has been attributed to environmental and genetic changes.

Photo source: PixaBay.com

An interesting theory that helps explain why the number of cancer cases has increased is that humans are just living longer. Many cancers do not show up until old age. When the average lifespan for a human was 30 to 35, there were fewer cases of cancer because we just did not live that long for the disease to manifest. In essence, something else would kill you off first. The fact that rates of cancer are increasing is a testament to how much we have expanded the average lifespan through modern medicine, the neutralization of predation, and a lower (on average) child mortality rate. Many are talking about using CBD for cancer as well.

Unfortunately, this data from the fossil record indicates that we are dealing with a very old malady. This may be why cures for cancer have eluded us for so long. As we have evolved, so has it. As many oncologists are keenly aware, cancer is a moving target. Our ancient lineage has thus endowed us with genes that contain the capacity for cancer. And our modern lifestyle choices (food, exercise, stressors) may exploit this potential and turn those ancient genes on.

 

SourcesUSA Today, Biography.com, LiveScience.com, www.cancer.org, www.NaturalGeographic.com, JAMA Oncology, www.PsychologyToday.com

About the Author
  • I currently work at a small CRO involved in clinical trial management.
You May Also Like
MAR 06, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
MAR 06, 2020
Drug Improves Cancer Therapy
Prochlorperazine (PCZ) is a drug used for psychiatric use and the therapeutic treatment of nausea but was recently found ...
APR 02, 2020
Cancer
APR 02, 2020
Diagnosing Cancer: SMOC2 and Thyroid Cancer
  Thyroid cancer is the most common of the endocrine cancers, with papillary thyroid carcinomas (PTCs) being the mo ...
APR 23, 2020
Cancer
APR 23, 2020
Doctors, watch out for unexpected side effects in small clinical trials
Doctors who have patients in small-sized clinical trials that test new cancer drugs should be on the look-out for unexpe ...
MAY 01, 2020
Cancer
MAY 01, 2020
Cancer patients' high mortality from COVID-19
A study published today in the online edition of Cancer Discovery reports that people with cancer who develop COVID-19 a ...
MAY 11, 2020
Cancer
MAY 11, 2020
Are antihistamines helpful for cancer?
Research recently published in the research journal Allergy suggests that a common antihistamine could improve survival ...
MAY 13, 2020
Cancer
MAY 13, 2020
What role does geography play in childhood cancer?
Research published in the International Journal of Health Geographics aims to explain the role that geography plays in p ...
Loading Comments...