Cancer: It is a Manmade Disease


Each year globally, 12.7 million people learn that they have cancer, and 7.6 million people die from the disease, including millions of children and youth in their prime. We, humans, are the ones responsible for their death because cancer is Manmade!

Yes, cancer, mankind’s deadliest and most elusive enemy, was ironically created by humans, as declared by a recent study in Manchester University. “Cancer is an entirely manmade disease, fuelled by the excesses of modern life”, the study of ancient remains concluded.

To trace cancer’s roots, the researchers tested hundreds of Egyptian mummified bodies, analyzed possible references to the disease in classical literature, and scrutinized signs in fossil records, from a period stretching thousands of years, and found the evidence of cancer presence in only one case. Compared to one in three people today who will suffer from cancer in their lifetime, cancer is definitely a new phenomenon.

Michael Zimmerman, Visiting Professor at Manchester University, who worked on the study stated: “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”.

Zimmerman and his colleague Rosalie David were the first to diagnose cancer in an Egyptian mummy by rehydrating and analyzing slivers of its tissues on a microscopic level, identifying rectal cancer in an unnamed mummy who had lived during the Ptolemaic period, 1600 to 1800 years ago. However, that was the only case found with any trace of cancer in hundreds of mummies tested.

Dismissing the argument that cancers might have been comparatively rare in Antiquity because the short life span of ancient Egyptians back then precluded the development of the disease, the researchers pointed out that other age-related disease, such as hardening of the arteries and brittle bones did occur.

David and Zimmerman also analyzed ancient Egyptian literature for hints of cancer, and found that any evidence of cancer in their texts was also “tenuous” with cancer-like problems more likely to have been caused by leprosy or varicose veins.

They also examined medical studies of human and animal remains going back to the age of dinosaurs. They suggested that evidence of cancer in animal fossils, non-human primates and early humans was scarce, with a few dozen mostly disputed examples in animal fossil, as the journal Nature Reviews Cancer reports.

Even the study of thousands of Neanderthal bones has provided only one example of a possible cancer. Moreover, text from ancient Greece showed that they were probably the first to define cancer as a specific disease, and to distinguish between benign and malignant tumors. Manchester professors stated it was unclear if this signaled a real rise in the disease, or just greater medical knowledge.

As they analyzed ancient literature, they did not find descriptions of operations for breast and other cancers until the 17th century, and the first reports in the scientific literature of distinctive tumors have only occurred in the past 200 years, such as scrotal cancer in chimney sweepers in 1775, nasal cancer in snuff users in 1761, and Hodgkin's disease in 1832.

Professor David, who presented the findings to cancer fighting organizations, said: “In industrialized societies, cancer is second only to cardiovascular disease as a cause of death. In ancient times, it was extremely rare”. He also added, “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.”

Despite the thoroughness and bold statements released by researchers who conducted this study, not all scientists are convinced. They argue that simply there is not enough evidence presented in the study to provide reliable calculations about cancer rates in ancient populations.

They also argue that hundreds or thousands of years ago, life expectancy was short. Many people passed away in middle age from infectious diseases, and mortality in childbirth or childhood was also common. Factoring in that cancer is mainly a disease of the elderly—three–quarters of cases diagnosed in people aged sixty and over, and more than one–third (36%) of cases in people aged seventy-five and over—it is not surprising that cancer was a rare event in populations where people were unlikely to make it past forty.

Another concern the skeptics have with examining fossil record is that skeletal remains might not preserve cancers very well. “To see cancers with the skeletal record, you really have to have a tumor that is affecting bone,” paleoanthropologist John Hawks, University of Wisconsin, Madison, said. “Although there might be few confirmed diagnoses of tumors in bones, it is because cancer is a difficult diagnosis to make from bone.”

However, even the skeptics agree that it is almost certain that the propensity of modern society to contract the disease has something to do with lifestyle, and the environment in which we live.

Smoking cigarettes, using asbestos as a building material, and the inclusion of carcinogenic material in photocopier toner, are examples of ways that we have increased the risk of contracting cancer. Damaging the ozone layer has led to a rise in the incidence of skin cancer, and polluting water supplies with carcinogenic chemicals increases the incidence of cancers.

So, while the scientists still argue about the intent behind the creation of the circumstances that lead to cancer, we can be sure that the human civilization has made a significant contribution to the disease.


The article was first published in print in SCIplanet, Winter 2014 issue.

Cover image by on Freepik.

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