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The Oldest Evidence of Cancer

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In two papers published in the South African Journal of Science, researchers say they’ve found the oldest definitive evidence of malignancy in a hominid.

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A cancerous foot bone belonging to a 1.7 million year old hominid. (Image: Edward J. Odes et al., 2016)

The first is an osteosarcoma, a type of agressive malignant bone tumor, found on a 1.7 million year old hominid, SK 7923, from the cave site Swartkrans in South Africa. Osteosarcomas affect young individuals. They have little to do with environmental influences. Since it is a metatarsal, its hard to known exactly what species it came from, what we do know is that it did come from a hominid.

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Tumors found on the vertebra of an Australopithecus sediba specimen are shown in pink. (Image: P. S. Randolph-Quinney et al., 2016)

In a related paper published in the same journal, a collaborating team of scientists describe the oldest tumor ever found in the human fossil record—a benign tumor found in the vertebrae of an Australopithecus sediba child.
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Prior to this discovery, the oldest known hominin tumor was found in the rib of a Neanderthal dating back to around 120,000 years ago.

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About Kambiz Kamrani

My name is Kambiz, I am a general surgery resident physician. Aside from medicine, my interests are in anthropology and biology. I run Anthropology.net, Primatology.net.

1 thought on “The Oldest Evidence of Cancer”

  1. Dr. Kambiz Kamrani; I do have keen interest in anthropology, palaeontology, geology and besides archaeology in general and in specific prehistory. But, here from the caption below the picture of a cancerous foot bone said to be belonging to a 1.7 million year old hominid. My curiosity is, is it the fossil of the foot as such or it is the form of the bone alone?