The Evolution of Cancer

Tumors in the Fossil Record

by Melody Krishnan, age 15

Cancer may be a much older disease than scientists thought. A surprising discovery in Croatia revealed a 120,000-year-old Neanderthal specimen with bone cancer. Prior to this discovery, the oldest fossils known to have bone cancer were between 1,000 and 4,000 years old.

This specimen, a Neanderthal rib, had a large cavity, whereas human ribs are normally filled with spongy bone.

“Tumors in the archaeological or fossil record are extremely rare… People didn’t live as long as they do today, and they weren’t exposed to the carcinogens they are today,” said Dr. Frayer.

In order to study the rib bone in more detail, Dr. Frayer and his team of researchers used x-rays and micro CT scans. Because the rib is not a complete specimen, the team cannot gauge the cancer's effect on the whole individual.

According to Dr. David W. Frayer, an anthropologist at the University of Kansas, this is a huge milestone for science because “this shows [Neanderthals] were susceptible to some of the same cancers we are today, even in a non-polluted environment.”

[Source: The New York Times]

This is extremely cool. I didn't know any of this. Good learning experience. – Maritza , la Follette HS (2014-07-22 16:36)
Wow, this is so interesting! Great facts to know! – Shannon Denz , Verona, WI (2014-09-10 18:50)