HEALTH: Is Cancer A Man-made, Modern Disease? Know The History of Cancer.

HEALTH: Is Cancer A Man-made, Modern Disease? Know The History of Cancer.


(The University of Manchester) Cancer is a modern, man-made disease caused by environmental factors such as pollution and diet, a study review by University of Manchester scientists has strongly suggested.

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Aggressive cancer cells. Image credit: Medical News Today

Their study of remains and literature from ancient Egypt and Greece and earlier periods – carried out at Manchester’s KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology and published in Nature Reviews Cancer – includes the first histological diagnosis of cancer in an Egyptian mummy.

Finding only one case of the disease in the investigation of hundreds of Egyptian mummies, with few references to cancer in literary evidence, proves that cancer was extremely rare in antiquity. The disease rate has risen massively since the Industrial Revolution, in particular childhood cancer – proving that the rise is not simply due to people living longer.

Professor Rosalie David, at the Faculty of Life Sciences, said: “In industrialised societies, cancer is second only to cardiovascular disease as a cause of death. But in ancient times, it was extremely rare. There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer. So it has to be a man-made disease, down to pollution and changes to our diet and lifestyle.”

She added: “The important thing about our study is that it gives a historical perspective to this disease. We can make very clear statements on the cancer rates in societies because we have a full overview. We have looked at millennia, not one hundred years, and have masses of data.”

Egyptian mummys

The data includes the first ever histological diagnosis of cancer in an Egyptian mummy by Professor Michael Zimmerman, a visiting Professor at the KNH Centre, who is based at the Villanova University in the US. He diagnosed rectal cancer in an unnamed mummy, an ‘ordinary’ person who had lived in the Dakhleh Oasis during the Ptolemaic period (200-400 CE).

  Cancer is a man-made disease fuelled by the excesses of modern life, a study of ancient remains has found.Tumours were rare until recent times when pollution and poor diet became issues, the review of mummies, fossils and classical literature found.A greater understanding of its origins could lead to treatments for the disease, which claims more than 150,000 lives a year in the UK. Source:  Daily Mail   Image credit:

Professor Zimmerman said: “In an ancient society lacking surgical intervention, evidence of cancer should remain in all cases. The virtual absence of malignancies in mummies must be interpreted as indicating their rarity in antiquity, indicating that cancer causing factors are limited to societies affected by modern industrialization”.

The team studied both mummified remains and literary evidence for ancient Egypt but only literary evidence for ancient Greece as there are no remains for this period, as well as medical studies of human and animal remains from earlier periods, going back to the age of the dinosaurs.

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Evidence of cancer in ancient Egyptian texts is also ‘tenuous’ with cancer-like problems more likely to have been caused by leprosy or even varicose veins.The ancient Greeks were probably the first to define cancer as a specific disease and to distinguish between benign and malignant tumours.But Manchester professors said it was unclear if this signalled a real rise in the disease, or just a greater medical knowledge.The 17th century provides the first descriptions of operations for breast and other cancers.And the first reports in scientific literature of distinctive tumours only occurred in the past 200 years or so, including scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps in 1775 and nasal cancer in snuff users in 1761. Source: Daily Mail Image credit: Pinterest

Evidence of cancer in animal fossils, non-human primates and early humans is scarce – a few dozen, mostly disputed, examples in animal fossils, although a metastatic cancer of unknown primary origin has been reported in an Edmontosaurus fossil while another study lists a number of possible neoplasms in fossil remains. Various malignancies have been reported in non-human primates but do not include many of the cancers most commonly identified in modern adult humans.

Image result for sir michael richards UK's cancer czar pic  Professor Mike Richards, is a British Oncologist and the UK’s cancer czar: Evidence of cancer in ancient Egyptian texts is also ‘tenuous’ with cancer-like problems more likely to have been caused by leprosy or even varicose veins.The ancient Greeks were probably the first to define cancer as a specific disease and to distinguish between benign and malignant tumours.But Manchester professors said it was unclear if this signalled a real rise in the disease, or just a greater medical knowledge.The 17th century provides the first descriptions of operations for breast and other cancers.And the first reports in scientific literature of distinctive tumours only occurred in the past 200 years or so, including scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps in 1775 and nasal cancer in snuff users in 1761. SOURCE: Daily Mail Image credit: Cancer Research UK – Science blog

It has been suggested that the short life span of individuals in antiquity precluded the development of cancer. Although this statistical construct is true, individuals in ancient Egypt and Greece did live long enough to develop such diseases as atherosclerosis, Paget’s disease of bone, and osteoporosis, and, in modern populations, bone tumours primarily affect the young.

Professor Rosalie David

The important thing about our study is that it gives a historical perspective to this disease. We can make very clear statements on the cancer rates in societies because we have a full overview. We have looked at millennia, not one hundred years, and have masses of data.

Professor Rosalie David)

Another explanation for the lack of tumours in ancient remains is that tumours might not be well preserved. Dr. Zimmerman has performed experimental studies indicating that mummification preserves the features of malignancy and that tumours should actually be better preserved than normal tissues. In spite of this finding, hundreds of mummies from all areas of the world have been examined and there are still only two publications showing microscopic confirmation of cancer. Radiological surveys of mummies from the Cairo Museum and museums in Europe have also failed to reveal evidence of cancer.

As the team moved through the ages, it was not until the 17th Century that they found descriptions of operations for breast and other cancers and the first reports in scientific literature of distinctive tumours have only occurred in the past 200 years, such as scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps in 1775, nasal cancer in snuff users in 1761 and Hodgkin’s disease in 1832.


The fathers of pharmacology

Professor David – who was invited to present her paper to UK Cancer Czar Professor Mike Richards and other oncologists at this year’s UK Association of Cancer Registries and National Cancer Intelligence Network conference – said: “Where there are cases of cancer in ancient Egyptian remains, we are not sure what caused them. They did heat their homes with fires, which gave off smoke, and temples burned incense, but sometimes illnesses are just thrown up.”

She added: “The ancient Egyptian data offers both physical and literary evidence, giving a unique opportunity to look at the diseases they had and the treatments they tried. They were the fathers of pharmacology so some treatments did work

“They were very inventive and some treatments thought of as magical were genuine therapeutic remedies. For example, celery was used to treat rheumatism back then and is being investigated today. Their surgery and the binding of fractures were excellent because they knew their anatomy: there was no taboo on working with human bodies because of mummification. They were very hands on and it gave them a different mindset to working with bodies than the Greeks, who had to come to Alexandria to study medicine.”

She concluded: “Yet again extensive ancient Egyptian data, along with other data from across the millennia, has given modern society a clear message – cancer is man-made and something that we can and should address.”


(Cancer Research UK – Science blog) It might be more prominent in the public consciousness now than in times gone by, but cancer isn’t just a ‘modern’, man-made disease of Western society. Cancer has existed as long as humans have. It was described thousands of years ago by Egyptian and Greek physicians, and researchers have discovered tell-tale signs of cancer in a 3,000-year-old skeleton. It’s even been discovered in dinosaur bones.

While it’s certainly true that global lifestyle-related diseases like cancer are on the risethe biggest risk factor for cancer is age.

The simple fact is that more people are living long enough to develop cancer because of our success in tackling infectious diseases and other historical causes of death such as malnutrition. It’s perfectly normal for DNA damage in our cells to build up as we age, and such damage can lead to cancer developing.

We’re also now able to diagnose cancers more accurately, thanks to advances in screening, imaging and pathology.

Yes, lifestylediet and other things like air pollution collectively have a huge impact on our risk of cancer – smoking for instance is behind a quarter of all cancer deaths in the UK – but that’s not the same as saying it’s entirely a modern, man-made disease. There are plenty of natural causes of cancer – for example, one in six worldwide cancers is caused by viruses and bacteria.



Ahmed Sohaib, MSc
Assistant lecturer of clinical oncologyMenoufia University


Some of the earliest evidence of cancer is found among fossilized bone tumors in human mummies in ancient Egypt, and references to the same has been found in ancient manuscripts.Bony skull destruction as seen in cancer of the head and neck has been found, too.Although the word cancer was not used, the oldest description of the disease is from Egypt and dates back to about 3000 BC.

Edwin Smith Papyrus is a copy of part of an ancient Egyptian textbook on trauma surgery. It describes 8 cases of tumors or ulcers of the breast that were treated by cauterization with a tool called the fire drill. The description adds that there is not treatment for the condition.

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Image credit:  SlidePlayer 


The disease was first called cancer by Greek physician Hippocrates ( BC). He is considered the “Father of Medicine.”Hippocrates used the terms carcinos and carcinoma to describe non-ulcer forming and ulcer-forming tumors. In Greek this means a crab.The description was named after the crab because the finger-like spreading projections from a cancer called to mind the shape of a crab.

Later Roman physician, Celsus (28-50 BC) translated the Greek term into cancer, the Latin word for crab.It was Galen ( AD), another Roman physician, who used the term oncos (Greek for swelling) to describe tumors. Oncos is the root word for oncology or study of cancers.


During the beginning of the 15th Century scientists developed greater understanding of the workings of human body and its disease processes.Zacutus Lusitani (1575−1642) and Nicholas Tulp (1593−1674), doctors in Holland, concluded that cancer was contagious. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, some believed that cancer was contagious.The first cancer hospital in France was forced to move from the city in 1779 because people feared cancer would spread throughout the city.

Giovanni Morgagni in regularized autopsies to find the cause of diseases. This laid the foundation for the study of cancer as well.It was Scottish surgeon John Hunter (1728−1793) who suggested that some cancers might be cured by surgery. It was nearly a century later that development of anesthesia prompted regular surgery for “movable” cancers that had not spread to other organs.

Related image  Image credit: SlideServe


There have been numerous theories of causes of cancer throughout ages. For example, the ancient Egyptians blamed Gods for cancers.Hippocrates believed that the body had 4 humors (body fluids): blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. He suggested that an imbalance of these humors with an excess of black bile in various body sites could cause cancer. This was the humoral theory. 

Image result for hippocrates on 4 humors pictures  Power point Greek Medicine: The history of Greek medicine. The Greeks were known for there very odd method, the Greeks thought that when a person was ill it was a punishment from the gods and would pray to the gods and ask for a cure, they would pray in the special heeling temples called asclepeia. Another from of cure for the patients was when the priest thought the patient was ready for treatment, he would lead them into the temple where put to sleep and the skins of the animal that was sacrificed To the gods, the cure was that while they Slept, snakes could slide across their body. And touch them with their tongues. The Hippocratic Oath:The Hippocratic oath is where a doctor swears to treat their patients to the best of their ability and judgment. The Hippocratic oath dates back to the 4th century B.C. when the Greek teacher and doctor Hippocrates practiced medicine on the island of Cos. Hippocrates believed that diseases had natural causes and not supernatural ones.Today most of the doctors who graduate take a modern version of the Hippocratic oath. Source: SlideShare

Stahl and Hoffman theorized that cancer was composed of fermenting and degenerating lymph, varying in density, acidity, and alkalinity. John Hunter, the Scottish surgeon from the 1700s, agreed that tumors grow from lymph constantly released from blood.It was it 1838 that German pathologist Johannes Muller showed that cancer is made up of cells rather than lymph. Muller proposed that cancer cells developed from budding elements (blastema) between normal tissues.

Rudolph Virchow (1821−1902), suggested that all cells, including cancer cells, are derived from other cells. He proposed the chronic irritation theory. He believed that cancer spread like a liquid.In the 1860s, German surgeon, Karl Thiersch, showed that cancers metastasize through the spread of malignant cells and not through a liquid.


It was quite early in the history of knowledge of cancers that surgery was considered a modality of treatment of cancers.Roman physician Celsus had noted that despite surgery the cancer seems to come back.Galen wrote about techniques of surgery for cancers. Surgery then was very primitive with many complications, including blood loss.Surgery for cancers flourished in the 19th and early 20th centuries after advancement of anesthesia.

  William Stewart Halsted (1852-1922) a pioneer in surgical therapy and father of modern breast surgery (A). Halsted and his medical team at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, performing a radical mastectomy (B)  SOURCE:  ResearchGate

William Stewart Halsted, professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University, developed the radical mastectomy during the last decade of the 19th century for breast cancers.Stephen Paget, an English surgeon during this time found that cancers did spread via blood circulation. This understanding of metastasis became a key element in recognizing patients who might and might not benefit from cancer surgery.


It was seen that during the World War II, soldiers exposed to mustard gas during military action developed toxic bone marrow suppression.Soon a similar chemical nitrogen mustard was found to work against a cancer of the lymph nodes called lymphoma.

Image result for chemical nitrogen mustard pic  Image credit: SlidePlayer


In the 19th Century, Thomas Beatson discovered that the breasts of rabbits stopped producing milk after he removed the ovaries.He tried removal of the ovaries in advanced breast cancer.His work provided a foundation for the modern use of hormone therapy, such as tamoxifen and the aromatase inhibitors, to treat or prevent breast cancer. 

Image result for thomas beatson hormone therapy pic Image credit: SlideShare


In 1713, Bernardino Ramazzini, an Italian doctor, reported the virtual absence of cervical cancer and relatively high incidence of breast cancer in nuns and wondered if this was in some way related to their celibate lifestyle.

Image result for Bernardino Ramazzini on celibate lifestyle pic  Image credit: SlidePlayer


With the understanding of the biology of cancer cells, several biological agents have been developed in treatment of cancers. These are called biological response modifier (BRM) therapy. Notable among these are the monoclonal antibodies.The first therapeutic monoclonal antibodies, rituximab (Rituxan) and trastuzumab (Herceptin) were approved during the late 1990’s to treat lymphoma and breast cancer, respectively.Scientists are also studying vaccines that boost the body’s immune response to cancer cells. 

Image result for immunotherapy pic Image credit: Roswell Park 


Galen was a 2nd-century Greek doctor whose books were preserved for centuries. He was thought to be the highest medical authority for over a thousand years.Galen viewed cancer much as Hippocrates had, and considered the patient incurable after a diagnosis of cancer had been made.

Image result for Galen was a 2nd-century Greek doctor pic Image credit: SlideShare

Even though medicine progressed and flourished in some ancient civilizations, there was little progress in cancer treatment.The approach to cancer was Hippocratic (or Galenic) for the most part. To some extent the belief that cancer cannot be cured has persisted even into the 21st century.This has served to fuel the fear people have of the disease. Some people, even today, consider all cancer incurable and put off seeing a doctor until it’s too late for optimal treatment.  


Only a few decades ago, the prognosis (outlook) for people facing cancer was not nearly as favorable as it is today.During the 1970s, about 1 of 2 people diagnosed with cancer survived at least 5 years. Now, more than 2 of 3 survive that long. Today there are more than 14 million cancer survivors in the United States alone.Because more people are surviving cancer, more attention is focused on the quality of life and long- term outcomes of these cancer survivors.

Image result for patient afraid of cancer pic Image credit: AZ Quotes

Cancer was once a word that people were afraid to speak in public, and people rarely admitted to being a cancer survivor.Now, many celebrities and national leaders very openly discuss and share their cancer experiences.The view that cancer cannot be cured and the fears that have historically been attached to the disease are slowly changing.


By the end of this talk and after all these names of great doctors, I would like to dedicate this talk to the soul of Dr. Abou Alkasim Alzahrawy –internationaly known as Abulcasis-He is considered the father of surgery just like Hippocrates is the father of Medicine.ابو القاسم الزهراوي936 – 1013 م

Al-Zahrawi-cropped.png  Abu Al-Qasim Al-Zahrawi is the Father of Modern Surgery

 (Wikipedia  Abū al-Qāsim Khalaf ibn al-‘Abbās al-Zahrāwī al-Ansari (Arabicأبو القاسم خلف بن العباس الزهراوي‎;‎ 936–1013), popularly known as Al Zahrawi(الزهراوي), Latinised as Abulcasis (from Arabic Abū al-Qāsim), was an ArabMuslim physiciansurgeon and chemist who lived in Al-Andalus. He is considered as the greatest surgeon of the Middle Ages, and has been described as the father of surgery.

Al-Zahrawi’s principal work is the Kitab al-Tasrif, a thirty-volume encyclopedia of medical practices. The surgery chapter of this work was later translated into Latin where it received popularity and became the standard text book in Europe for the next 500 years. Al-Zahrawi’s pioneering contributions to the field of surgical procedures and instruments had an enormous impact in the East and West well into the modern period, where some of his discoveries are still applied in medicine to this day.

He was the first physician to identify the hereditary nature of haemophilia, as well as the first physician to describe an abdominal pregnancy; a sub type of ectopic pregnancy which in those days was a fatal affliction.

The city of Shebin El Kom during rain
Thank YouThe city of Shebin El Kom during rain.


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