Prostate cancer found in a 2,250-year-old mummy was caused by genetics and not environment, according to researchers.
The mummy at the National Archaeology Museum of Lisbon had a pattern of tumors between its pelvis and lower spine, telltale signs of the modern day man killer. The issue of genetics vs. environment is critical, because it has been widely believed that many if not most forms of cancer are due to environmental changes drived by industrialization.
American University in Cairo Professor Salima Ikram, a member of the team that studied the mummy in Portugal for two years, said Sunday the mummy was of a man who died in his forties.
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"Living conditions in ancient times were very different; there were no pollutants or modified foods, which leads us to believe that the disease is not necessarily only linked to industrial factors," she said.
The man beneath the gauze wrapping was likely in his forties when he died around 285 B.C. The mummy was analyzed by a powerful Multi-Detector Computerized Tomography scan.
Researchers believe the man died a slow and painful death.
"It is the oldest known case of prostate cancer in ancient Egypt and the second-oldest case in history," radiologist and researcher Carlos Prates said.
Paula Veiga, an Egyptologist, told Discovery News the case proves that cancer, believed to be largely environmental, existed in ancient Egypt.
"This study shows that cancer did exist in antiquity, for sure in ancient Egypt. The main reason for the scarcity of examples found today might be the lower prevalence of carcinogens and the shorter life expectancy," said Veiga
The earliest known case of prostate cancer was found in 2007, by researchers investigating the skeleton of a 2,700-year-old Scythian king who died in Siberia.