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How Did the Ancient Egyptians Attempt to Treat Cancer?

Margaret Lipman
Published May 31, 2024
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The ancient Egyptians left a legacy of incredible feats of engineering, most notably the Great Pyramid of Giza, the only still-standing Wonder of the Ancient World. They also amassed a surprising amount of detailed medical knowledge, including the development of prosthetic limbs and the treatment of complex fractures. Now, a recent discovery has revealed that the Egyptians were attempting to treat or study cancer in the third millennium BC, roughly a thousand years before what was previously considered the earliest evidence of cancer treatment.

In a report published this week in the journal Frontiers in Medicine, paleo-paleontologist Edgard Camarós, a professor at Spain’s University of Santiago de Compostela, and his co-authors discuss the markings on a skull belonging to a man who lived sometime between 2,687 and 2,345 B.C and died in his early 30s.

Skull 236, discovered in Giza in the 1900s, is part of Cambridge University’s Duckworth Collection. Researchers studying the remains in the 1960s determined that they belonged to an individual suffering from cancer, which is what initially attracted Camarós when he came across the find in 2021. The skull has a large cancerous lesion and around 30 smaller lesions, indicating that the cancer had metastasized, and it was around these legions that the researchers noticed cut marks.

The work of ancient oncologists?

  • *Though the scientists who examined the skull 60 years ago didn’t make the connection that a very early attempt at cancer surgery had been undertaken, Camarós and his team had advanced technology at their disposal, including micro-CT scanners and high-resolution cameras for focusing on the tiniest of details. According to their observations, it appears that ancient physicians used a metal instrument to perform surgery or a medical autopsy on the man.

  • *Incredible though the discovery is, many questions remain unanswered. Camarós hopes to learn more about the genetic basis of cancer by finding ancient DNA that will reveal how it has evolved throughout human history.

  • *Despite numerous medical breakthroughs that have greatly improved survival rates, cancer is still prevalent in the 21st century and was the second-highest cause of death in the U.S. in 2022, with 608,000 deaths.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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