Why Wasn’t Cancer Around Years Ago

Since the beginning of time, both humans and other creatures have experienced cancer. It follows that it is not surprising that literature on cancer has existed since the beginning of time. Ancient writings, Egyptian human mummies, and preserved bone tumors all include some of the earliest proof of cancer. Mummies have been found to have growths that may be osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. It has also been discovered that cancer of the head and neck can cause bone deterioration in the skull.

Although the word “cancer” was not used, the earliest description of the disease was found in Egypt and dates to about 3000 BC. The Edwin Smith Papyrus is a replica of a section of an ancient Egyptian trauma surgery textbook. It details 8 cases of breast tumors or ulcers that were surgically removed using the fire drill, a cautery device. There is no known cure for the illness, according to the writing.

When did people first develop cancer?

The First Case of Cancer Ever Recorded Papers (papyrus) from ancient Egypt were discovered to contain the world’s oldest known case of cancer in 1500 BC. 2 It discussed a breast tumor that was discovered. The fire drill, a heated device, was used to burn away the cancerous tissue in order to treat it. We now refer to this as “cauterization.”

Did individuals develop cancer in the 1700s?

According to the findings, there was little progress in cancer research from roughly A.D. 500 to 1500. Later, in the 17th century, Wilhelm Fabricus discussed procedures for treating malignancies of the breast and other types. According to David, cancer rates seem to have risen since the Industrial Revolution. Reports of particular cancers, such scrotal cancer and Hodgkin’s disease, have surfaced in the last 200 years.

What makes cancer more prevalent now?

Our longer lifespans are the primary factor contributing to the overall increase in cancer risk. And according to the experts that came up with these new numbers, the longer lives we are leading account for around two-thirds of the increase.

The remaining factors, according to them, are caused by variations in cancer incidence among various age groups. And when you examine these changes closely, you can spot trends that are reflected in the way we conduct our lives, demonstrating amply the significance of the influence our way of life may have.

For instance, the prevalence of overweight and obesity is rising in the UK, which increases the risk of 13 different malignancies. Additionally, the culture of sunbathing and utilizing sunbeds is a factor in the rise in melanoma skin cancer cases.

Breast screening in women has led to earlier and more frequent cancer detection, while some of this may also be due to “overdiagnosis,” a topic we cover in-depth in our blog post. But alterations in our lives, such as women giving birth later and breastfeeding less, are also to blame for the rise in breast cancer rates.

Things are changing for males as well: the introduction of PSA testing has resulted in a rise in prostate cancer diagnoses, many of which may have gone undiagnosed in the past and never caused harm in these men’s lifetimes.

But it’s important to contrast these improvements with one, far larger decline. Smoking continues to be the leading preventable cause of cancer in the globe, accounting for 15% of all cancer diagnoses and more than one-fourth of all cancer deaths in the UK. Men are now smoking less tobacco, nevertheless.

Overall, lung cancer rates are decreasing, but it’s not a straightforward picture because women are still smoking more than men do, which implies that their rates of smoking-related cancers are rising, as the graph below illustrates.

Is it possible to treat cancer?

No type of cancer can be cured, although there are treatments that could help.

Many people receive cancer treatment, live the rest of their lives, then pass away from other reasons. Even though they may have had cancer therapy, many others continue to suffer from the disease and pass away, sometimes for years or even decades.

Cancer treatments that are frequently used include:

  • transplanting bone marrow
  • certain medication therapy

Plans for treatment are created based on the type of cancer, its stage of development, your general health, and your preferences.

Do we ever get cancer?

New cells are constantly being created by our bodies, some of which have the potential to develop into cancer. Even though humans may occasionally produce cells with damaged DNA, this does not necessarily guarantee that they will eventually develop into cancer.

Cells with damaged DNA often either fix the damage spontaneously or undergo apoptosis and die. Only when neither of those things occurs does there is the possibility of cancer.

Why does cancer occur naturally?

Yes, there was cancer before humans could produce artificial cancer-causing compounds (cancer-causing agents are called “carcinogens”). Sadly, cancer is an inevitable part of existence. Even in the most isolated places, each multicellular organism on Earth is susceptible to developing cancer (yes, even sharks get cancer). While some chemicals created by humans can cause cancer, they are not the only ones. You cannot guarantee that you will never develop cancer by strictly shielding yourself from all man-made carcinogens.

First off, there are hundreds of distinct disorders that fall under the general label “cancer.” The unifying factor among all of these illnesses is the alteration of healthy cells, which causes them to start reproducing abnormally and spread throughout the body, hurting it. Numerous different pathways can result in aberrant cell division. Cell DNA ultimately regulates cell reproduction, just like it does for other biological processes. A cell is said to have mutated when its DNA is altered. Most mutations are benign. The cell may, however, reproduce incorrectly and pass on its mutation to the daughter cells if a mutation affects a region of the DNA that regulates cell division. Cancer may be brought on by any substance that causes DNA to mutate. Agents that can cause cancer include (for additional information, read the Notes Section at the end):

  • Natural chemical carcinogens including lead, arsenic, alcohol, and tobacco
  • Natural biological carcinogens like the human papillomavirus, helicobacter pylori, and the hepatitis B virus
  • asbestos and other natural mechanical carcinogens
  • Natural radiological carcinogens such sun radiation, radon, and cosmic rays

Before humans had the technology to produce synthetic chemicals, all of these carcinogens already existed. Natural carcinogens are nonetheless natural, despite the fact that human industrial activity might increase a person’s exposure to them.

You may still develop cancer even if you could somehow completely shield yourself from all carcinogens, whether they are created naturally or artificially. Even in the absence of hazardous factors, cancer can develop. A cell must duplicate its DNA for its daughter cells each time it divides. Even in the absence of carcinogens, copy mistakes can occur during DNA replication due to the random fluctuations found in all molecular movements. DNA mutation is thus a typical aspect of cell reproduction. Numerous mutations are unharmful. Some mutations are even advantageous and aid in the process of evolution. But occasionally, mutations result in cancer. Cancer can develop even in the absence of man-made substances due to the environment’s inherent carcinogens and the fact that mutation is a normal aspect of cell reproduction. Cancer is a natural disease, but there are ways to lower our chance of developing it, including avoiding tobacco, alcohol, arsenic, radon, ionizing radiation, and other carcinogens, increasing our intake of fruits and vegetables, exercising frequently, getting vaccinated, and wearing sunscreen.

As a natural byproduct of yeasts fermenting sugar, alcohol (also known as ethanol), which is included in beer and wine, may be found everywhere yeast is present, including in the sap of palm trees and overripe fruit. Cancers of the mouth, throat, laryx, esophagus, liver, colon/rectum, and breast have been linked to alcohol usage (source).

Chemical element arsenic is present in numerous natural minerals. It is well recognized that natural arsenic seeps into groundwater and contaminates human water supplies, particularly in areas of the world where natural arsenic levels are high. Lung, bladder, kidney, and skin malignancies have all been linked to arsenic (source).

It is a silicate mineral that occurs naturally and contains threads that resemble tiny, sharp needles. The filaments in asbestos dust irritate and puncture lung cells when it is breathed in, leaving scarring and a chemical imbalance that can result in cancer. Since asbestos can harm cells due to its small size and hard, needle-like structure rather than its chemical makeup, it is a mechanical carcinogen rather than a chemical one. It is believed that any minerals with tiny, rigid threads resembling needles are carcinogenic. Cancers of the lungs, pleura, larynx, and ovaries have been linked to asbestos (source).

High-energy particles known as cosmic rays are emitted by far-off supernovae outside of our solar system. Constant cosmic rays hit the earth and are powerful enough to ionize the atoms within living cells, possibly resulting in cancer. Cosmic rays are somewhat protected from the earth’s atmosphere. But those who spend a lot of time in airplanes get less atmospheric protection and are exposed to more cosmic rays and solar radiation (source).

A bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) thrives in the stomach’s mucous layer. There is evidence that H. pylori causes stomach cancer (source).

Humans who come into contact with bodily fluids that are infected are susceptible to the hepatitis B virus. It’s been determined that this virus causes liver cancer (source).

About 70% of cases of cervical cancer have been linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV). Furthermore, research has linked HPV to malignancies of the vulva, vagina, penis, oropharynx, and anus (source).

Chemical element lead can be found naturally in rocks, soil, plants, and animals. Lead exposure usually happens through eating or inhalation since it is a stable, solid metal under normal conditions. Although the evidence is not yet conclusive, lead probably causes stomach and lung cancer (source).

The radioactive chemical element radon is created naturally when radium decays in rocks and soil. When present as a gas, radon tends to gather in spaces near the earth, like basements. The radioactive isotopes that radon decays to emit ionizing radiation. Lung cancer is known to be caused by radon (source).

UV radiation, which is present in solar radiation, harms skin cells. Tanning beds also release ultraviolet radiation. It is known that continual exposure to UV light results in skin cancer (source).

The tobacco plant’s leaves are the source of tobacco, which is what is used in cigarettes and cigars. At least 50 distinct compounds known to cause cancer are found in tobacco. The main avoidable cancer cause is tobacco. Cancers of the mouth, lips, nose, sinus, larynx, throat, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidney, bladder, uterus, cervix, colon/rectum, ovary, and blood have also been linked to it (source).


Alcohol, arsenic, asbestos, chemical carcinogens, lead, man-made radiation, radon, natural mutation, tobacco, tobacco, cosmic rays

Was cancer a problem back then?

Between 9 and 14 percent of adults in medieval Britain were thought to have had the disease at the time of their deaths, according to the first study to employ x-rays and CT scans to find evidence of cancer among the skeletal remains of a pre-industrial society.

According to researchers, this means that the prevalence of cancer in an era before exposure to chemicals from industry and tobacco that cause tumors was ten times higher than previously believed.

Prior studies on historical cancer rates based on the archaeological record have only looked at the exterior of the bone for lesions. It implied that less than 1% of people had cancer, making it a rare disease.

“In medieval remains, soft tissue organs that have long since disintegrated are where the majority of malignancies occur. According to main author Dr. Piers Mitchell, who conducted the research as part of the “After the Plague” initiative, just a small percentage of cancers spread to bone, and of those, only a small percentage are visible on its surface.

According to recent studies, between one-third and one-half of patients with soft tissue cancer will experience bone metastasis. In order to calculate the cancer prevalence in medieval Britain, we merged this information with proof of bone metastases from our study.

According to Mitchell from Cambridge University’s Department of Archaeology, “we believe the overall proportion of the medieval population who most likely suffered from a cancer somewhere in their body was between nine and fourteen percent.

Dr. Jenna Dittmar, a researcher at After the Plague, said, “Using CT scans we were able to discover cancer tumors buried inside a bone that seemed entirely normal on the surface.

“Until recently, it was believed that infectious diseases like dysentery and the bubonic plague, together with starvation and wounds from accidents or battle, were the main causes of poor health in medieval people.

The principal types of diseases that plagued medieval people must now include cancer, according to Dittmar.

The disease is 34 times more prevalent today than the most recent study estimates it was in medieval times, the researchers note. In modern Britain, 4050% of people have cancer by the time they pass away.

According to them, a number of reasons, including the effects of tobacco, which started to be transported into Britain in the 16th century with the colonization of the Americas, are likely responsible for the disease’s current rates of occurrence.

The researchers also mention the likelihood that DNA-damaging viruses are now more prevalent due to long-distance travel, as well as the carcinogenic consequences of chemicals that have spread across society since the industrial revolution in the 18th century. In addition, because of our longer lifespans, cancer has a lot more time to spread.

The most recent study’s skeletal remains came from sites close to three villages in the area around Cambridge as well as from three cemeteries that were discovered inside the university city’s medieval center, including the location of an Augustinian friary and a former charitable hospital that provided care for the sick and poor but is now a part of St. John’s College.

Since so few of the discovered remains were complete, the researchers focused only on those who still had an intact spinal column, pelvis, and femur (thigh bones). According to recent studies, these are the bones that cancer patients are most likely to have metastases or secondary malignancies in.

The vertebrae, femurs, and pelvises of 96 men, 46 women, and a person of unknown sex were examined before being photographed using x-rays and CT scans. The scientists discovered cancer in five people’s bones, with a minimum frequency of 3.5 percent. The majority of them were in the pelvis, but one middle-aged guy had little lesions all over his skeleton that might have been signs of a blood malignancy.

The team estimated that 914% of medieval Britons had cancer, based on the fact that bone metastases are detected by CT scans roughly 75% of the time and that only a third to half of cancer deaths result from bone metastases.

They do, however, issue a warning that the sample size is necessarily constrained and that it can be difficult to diagnose cancer in people who have been deceased for many centuries.

In order to determine how prevalent cancer was in significant ancient civilizations, Mitchell continued, “additional research using CT scanning of apparently normal skeletons in diverse places and time periods is needed.

What was cancer known as in the past?

The Greek doctor Hippocrates first referred to the condition as cancer (460-370 BC). The “Father of Medicine,” so called. Hippocrates used the words carcinos and carcinoma to refer to tumors that do not cause ulcers and those that do. This signifies a crab in Greek.