Quirks & Quarks

4,500-Year-Old Cancer in Human Fossils

An ancient Siberian man died with bones riddled with cancerous lesions.
Not a well man. (Angela Lieverse/University of Saskatchewan/The Canadian Press)
What is believed to be the oldest evidence of human cancer has been identified. The bones of a 35-to-45-year-old man who died 4,500 years ago in Siberia were recently studied by Dr. Angela Lieverse, a bio-archaeologist from The University of Saskatchewan. The bones had many of what Dr. Lieverse calles "destructive lesions" - essentially holes. These are characteristic of a soft-tissue cancer, perhaps of the lungs or prostate, which had spread to the bones. She suggests one scenario is that in the cold of Siberia the man would have been exposed to a lot of smoke from wood fires which might have led to lung cancer. The study supports the idea that cancer is not an exclusively modern phenomenon.

Related Links

- Paper in PLOS One
- University of Saskatchewan release
- CP/CBC News story
- The Siberian Times story