Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for roughly one in eight of all deaths in 2004, according to the World Health Organization.
However, scientists have only found one case of the disease in investigations of hundreds of Egyptian mummies, researcher Rosalie David at the University of Manchester in England said in a statement. (The researchers did not reply to repeated queries made via phone and e-mail.)
The rarity of cancer in mummies suggests it was scarce in antiquity, and “that cancer-causing factors are limited to societies affected by modern industrialization,” researcher Michael Zimmerman at Villanova University in Pennsylvania said in a statement. “In an ancient society lacking surgical intervention, evidence of cancer should remain in all cases.”
Zimmerman was the first to diagnose cancer in an Egyptian mummy by analyzing its tissues on a microscopic level, identifying rectal cancer in an unnamed mummy who had lived in the Dakhleh Oasis during the Ptolemaic period 1,600 to 1,800 years ago.