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Fossil discovery: researchers discover the oldest human tumor

It is not for nothing that South Africa is called the cradle of mankind: In the Swartkrans Cave near Johannesburg, scientists have found the oldest evidence of cancer and bone tumors.

The researchers diagnosed the aggressive cancer tumor osteosarcoma in a fossil foot bone. The bone comes from an early human relative who died approximately 1.7 million years ago. The scientists could not determine the exact type of human being, not even whether it was a child or an adult. What is certain, however, is that the fossil came from a hominid and that the disease must have caused him great pain. Today children and adolescents in particular are affected by the malignant bone tumor.


Video: A team of international scientists found the oldest evidence of cancer and bone tumors in South Africa.

The researchers also discovered an even older tumor: in the 1.98 million year old spine of a child of the species Australopithecus sediba they identified a benign neoplasm. It is the oldest tumor that has ever been found. Patrick Randolph-Quinney, forensic anthropologist from Wits University and the University of Central Lancaster, considers the find to be particularly remarkable for two reasons: “It is fascinating that we discovered the tumor in the spine; such cases are rare. In addition, it is about a child - in fact, it is the first fossil record of a tumor type that we were able to make in an adolescent. "

The paleoanthropologist Lee Berger, whose work at the Malapa site is funded by the National Geographic Society, was also involved in the research. “The history of these cancers and tumors is much more complex than originally thought,” says Berger. The scientists published the results of their work today in the South African Journal.

"Modern medicine tends to associate cancers and tumors with the way we live today and with environmental influences," says Edward Odes, anatomist and first author of the scientific publication. "However, our studies show that our ancestors also suffered from these diseases millions of years ago - long before modern, industrialized societies existed."