Neanderthal clues to cancer origins

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A Neanderthal living 120,000 years ago had a cancer that is common today, according to a fossil study.


A fossilised Neanderthal rib found in a shallow cave at Krapina, Croatia, shows signs of a bone tumour.

The discovery is the oldest evidence yet of a tumour in the human fossil record, say US scientists.

The research, published in the journal PLOS One, gives clues to the complex history of cancer in humans.

Until now, the earliest known bone cancers have been identified in ancient Egyptian remains from about 1,000-4,000 years ago.

"It's the oldest tumour found in the human fossil record," Dr David Frayer, the University of Kansas anthropologist who led the US team, told BBC News.

"It shows that living in a relatively unpolluted environment doesn't necessarily protect you against cancer, even if you were a Neanderthal living 120,000 years ago."

Written By: Helen Briggs
continue to source article at bbc.co.uk

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    • In reply to #1 by DHudson:

      Does this makes cancer the oldest known genetical disease?

      In multicellular Eukaryotes, single cell reproductive mechanisms are suppressed in most cells, being contained in specialist reproductive organs.

      Cancers seem to be rogue cells, in which primordial single cell reproduction in inappropriate cells is triggered and commences in an adult organism. – probably because some genetic restraint or control mechanism is broken. I would guess that they have been around since there were first multicellular organisms.

      • In reply to #3 by Alan4discussion:

        In reply to #1 by DHudson:

        Does this makes cancer the oldest known genetical disease?

        In multicellular Eukaryotes, single cell reproductive mechanisms are suppressed in most cells, being contained in specialist reproductive organs.

        Cancers seem to be rogue cells, in which primordial single cell r…

        I take that as a subtle yes. Thank you for the great reply, Alan.

    • In reply to #1 by DHudson:

      Does this makes cancer the oldest known genetical disease?

      Can I point out that the condition identified is Fibrous Dysplasia of Bone (FD) which is not a cancer, nor is it generally considered hereditary. Obviously, this does not take away from the general point of tumour-diseases not being unique to modern times – some of the cellular changes in FD are found in aggressive variants of certain cancerous bone tumours today.

      Sorry – this sort of error, in the first line of the article no less, makes me grit my teeth…

  1. Presumably Neanderthals (just like less technologically advanced populations of modern humans) dealt with carcinogens, even if the environment itself was relatively unpolluted; I’m mainly thinking of smoke from cooking fires, which is a major health risk for a lot of people in poorer societies today. Apart from that, aren’t many cancers congenital?

    • In reply to #2 by Jabarkis:

      Presumably Neanderthals (just like less technologically advanced populations of modern humans) dealt with carcinogens, even if the environment itself was relatively unpolluted; I’m mainly thinking of smoke from cooking fires, which is a major health risk for a lot of people in poorer societies today…

      Or long-erupting volcanos, chemically polluted drinking water, large forest fires, etc? Mac.

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