Ancient Egyptians never knew cancer, according to reports

What was it about ancient lifestyle's that prevented them from knowing cancer?

A team of researchers and scientists from Manchester University in the United Kingdom recently studied over 1,000 ancient mummies in Egypt and South America in an effort to better understand cancer, and were surprised to discover that cancer was only present in one mummy! The study, researchers say, prove that cancer is a “man-made disease,” attributed to poor lifestyle choices and pollution, and that cancer is not a “naturally occurring” illness.

The findings mimic what many doctors in the cancer field have been saying for years – that cancer can be completely avoided if a person adopts a healthy, anticancer lifestyle.

Very few mentions of cancer in general were made in ancient writings up until the Industrial Revolution, which tells historians that cancer simply did not exist, or at least not on a very large scale.  As time has progressed, cancer has become something that everyone understands, and it now accounts for one of every three deaths worldwide.

Professor Rosalie David, who participated in the study, calls cancer a disease of “industrialized societies,” and states that, contrary to what many people believe, “there is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer.”

“It [cancer] has to be a man-made disease, down to pollution and changes to our diet and lifestyle,” Professor David reports.

While some experts in the field of cancer research are skeptical about this research, Dr. Rachel Thompson of the World Cancer Research Fund calls it “interesting,” and admits that the most important things that people can do in an effort to decrease their cancer risk include a “healthy diet, regular physical activity” and maintaining a healthy weight. Doing so, says Dr. Thompson, “can prevent about a third of the most common cancers.”

“Perhaps our ancestors’ lifestyle reduced their risk from cancer,” the doctor goes on to say.

The research involved two parts: in-depth study of ancient literature, and medical examinations of ancient remains of both humans and animals from the Jurassic period up until the start of the Industrial Revolution [about 1760]. Cancer was only found in one mummy, from Egypt. Ancient texts from Greece and Egypt rarely, if ever, mentioned illnesses that researchers would assume to be cancer. However, the Greeks were reportedly the first culture to specifically identify cancer as a disease as far back as 410 B.C. Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine,” used the words carcinos [which means "crab"] and the word carcinoma to describe various inflammations and tumors. The Greeks also seemed to understand that cancer could spread, and made mention of a mastectomy-like procedure to cure patient’s with a lump in their breast.

Despite mention of carcinos, “in ancient times, it [cancer] was extremely rare,” says Professor David.

The study does mention that, in ancient times, people may not have survived long enough to develop cancer, but that the increase in cancer cases throughout the last hundred years cannot necessarily be attributed to people living longer. The first noticeable increase in cancer, especially childhood cancers, was evident after the Industrial Revolution. If you believe that cancer is, essentially, a product of lifestyle changes and industry, then this makes sense. The Industrial Revolution represented a shift from manual labor to an economy based on machine manufacturing and factory work. It began with the mechanization of many industries, especially the textile industry, and also included the introduction of steam power, increased use of coal, the development of noisy machinery, and the mass-production of factories.

If you remember learning about the Industrial Revolution in school, you know that the building of factories caused people to relocate from suburban areas to cities. This resulted in overcrowding and less-than-desirable living situations. People who went to work in factories knew that they were dirty, noisy, unsafe places. Most of these factory workers returned home at the end of the day to crowded, dirty living quarters. The shift from quiet, self-sufficient suburban living to the industrialized urban lifestyle may also represent the beginning of cancer as we know it today.

Historian James Olson, of Sam Houston State University in Texas, who opposes the recent study, says that it is “controversial” to suggest that pollution and lifestyle choices are the sole reasons why cancer is such a global issue.  But Professor David and another participant, Professor Michael Zimmerman of Villanova University, say that “modern carcinogens” may very well be the reason why cancer has become so prevalent. Smoking, poor diet and a lack of physicial activity, they say, are the reason why people today are more likely to know cancer.

People hundreds of years ago likely worked on their feet all day, and then spent long hours tending to household chores. Ancient people did not have the option of swinging through a drive-thru window when they were hungry, and ate a more balanced diet of meat, vegetables and grains. Tobacco was used hundreds of years ago, of course, but the cigarettes of centuries ago did not contain the hazardous chemicals that today’s cigarettes do.

No matter what you choose to believe about why cancer exists, one thing is certain. Living a healthy lifestyle and limiting your exposure to pollution and other toxins will dramatically reduce your risk of knowing cancer.

The Manchester University study was published in the journal Nature Reviews Cancer.


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