As human beings, we’ve ruined a lot of stuff. We’ve driven animals to extinction, created global warming, and allowed Dennis Miller to announce Monday Night Football. But this might be our biggest screwup yet: we created cancer.
No, you read that right. After studying the remains of Egyptian mummies and tracing the instances of cancer throughout literature, a group of scientists at the University of Manchester have declared that cancer is man-made.
The team studied both mummified remains and literary evidence for ancient Egypt but only literary evidence for ancient Greece as there are no remains for this period, as well as medical studies of human and animal remains from earlier periods, going back to the age of the dinosaurs.
They found one case of cancer among hundreds of Egyptian mummies. The only explanation for the explosion of cancer cases over time is that it’s a man-made problem.
Professor Rosalie David, at the Faculty of Life Sciences, said: “In industrialised societies, cancer is second only to cardiovascular disease as a cause of death. But in ancient times, it was extremely rare. There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer. So it has to be a man-made disease, down to pollution and changes to our diet and lifestyle.”
After discovering the mummified tumor, researchers then looked through generations of literature for mentions of cancer. They passed over centuries of writing before finding anything.
As the team moved through the ages, it was not until the 17th century that they found descriptions of operations for breast and other cancers and the first reports in scientific literature of distinctive tumours have only occurred in the past 200 years, such as scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps in 1775, nasal cancer in snuff users in 1761 and Hodgkin’s disease in 1832.
An alternative explanation to the rise in cancer suggests that ancient humans didn’t live long enough to develop the disease. However, the rate of childhood cancer has risen massively since the Industrial Revolution, proving otherwise.
Another suggestion was that mummification just didn’t preserve tumors well, but Michael Zimmerman, a professor at Villanova University and the man who discovered the once-cancerous mummy, has found that mummification actually preserves tumors better than regular tissue.
“Yet again extensive ancient Egyptian data,” said David, the study’s director, “along with other data from across the millennia, has given modern society a clear message: cancer is man-made and something that we can and should address.”