Cancer is very old
If, like me, you enjoy arcane facts, you will like this short article from the New York Times. It seems that cancer has been around just about as long as people have been. As there are more of us and as we live longer, more of us experience cancer. It is really about that simple.
I actually find some odd comfort in this. It is certainly possible, maybe even likely, that much about our modern world is carcinogenic, but we can't take all the blame. As the saying goes: X*%# happens.
The Known: Cancer Is Really, Really Old. The Unknown:
How Common It Was.
Carcinogens abounded 1.7 million years ago in Early Pleistocene times when a nameless protohuman wandered the South African countryside in what came to be known as the Cradle of Humankind.
Then, as now, ultraviolet radiation poured from the sun, and radon seeped from granite in the ground. Viruses
like ones circulating today scrambled DNA. And there were the body’s own carcinogens, hormones that switch on at certain times of life, accelerating the multiplication of cells and increasing the likelihood of mutations.
That, rather than some external poison, was probably the cause of a bone tumor diagnosed as an osteosarcoma found fossilized in Swartkrans Cave, a paleoanthropological trove northwest of Johannesburg. A paper in the current South African Journal of Science describes the discovery, concluding that it is the oldest known case of cancer in an early human ancestor.
“The expression of malignant osteosarcoma,” the authors wrote, “indicates that whilst the upsurge in malignancy incidence is correlated with modern lifestyles, there is no reason to suspect that primary bone tumors would have been any less frequent in ancient specimens.”