Most people describe cancer as a modern disease. This isn’t entirely true. While cases of cancer are certainly more common now than ever, cancer has existed since humans have.
Bioarchaeologists haven’t discovered too much physical evidence of cancer, but this is because the technology hasn’t been around long enough. Paleopathology, or the study of disease in ancient human remains, has made bounds since the development of medical technologies like multidetector computed tomography (MDCT) and x-rays. These along with a standardized technique for visual analysis will help scientists make discoveries about cancer from already known remains.
Even with the major changes in technology, there haven’t been too many discovered cases to date. It’s between 200-300 cases. This is where the argument for cancer as a man-made disease comes in.
Some scientists argue that cancer is a modern disease because of several factors, including but not limited to:
- the low number of ancient finds
- the Industrial Revolution
- the obesity epidemic
- tobacco use
- increased exposure to carcinogens
These factors have one thing in common – civilization. However, what they fail to consider is the expanded lifespan of the modern individual compared with an ancient human and the advancement of medical diagnoses.
In ancient times, many people went through life without being diagnosed or treated, and they didn’t live long enough for it to have such intense effects. After all, cancer is more likely to develop the older you get. Another flaw with that argument is ancient people were exposed to plenty of carcinogens.
Some radical views suggest cancer is entirely man-made, asserting “there is nothing in the natural world that can cause cancer.” Obviously, this is simply scientifically false. You can be born with cancer. The sun causes cancer, genetics cause cancer and so do chemicals.
You might be thinking, chemicals you say? Aren’t those man-made? Some are, but 99% of the chemicals that get into our systems are naturally occurring.
Understanding this and studying how cancer evolved is essential to modern America. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the US, the most common forms being breast and lung cancer. One death out of every four is due to this disease. By looking at its evolution, we can try to understand genetically what makes those genes expressed. Studying cancer from this perspective can help develop new treatments, creating a better future.
Medicine and treatments aren’t the only part of surviving cancer. It’s also about the patient’s mental state. Many cancer victims blame themselves. They wonder what they did to deserve it. I hope this information can put that critical voice to rest.
Check out this slideshow of cancer in an Egyptian skeleton.
More about the evolution of cancer.