The Archaeology News Network
Wed, 26 Oct 2011 11:00 CDT
Some 2250 years ago in Egypt, a man known today only as M1 struggled with a long, painful, progressive illness. A dull pain throbbed in his lower back, then spread to other parts of his body, making most movements a misery. When M1 finally succumbed to the mysterious ailment between the ages of 51 and 60, his family paid for him to be mummified so that he could be reborn and relish the pleasures of the afterworld.
© Instituto dos Museus e da Conservação, I.P., Lisbon
Ancient affliction. A high-resolution CT scan of the lumbar spine region of a 2150-year-old Egyptian mummy has just revealed small, round lesions—the oldest case of metastatic prostate cancer in ancient Egyptians
Now an international research team has diagnosed what ailed M1: the oldest known case of prostate cancer in ancient Egypt and the second oldest case in the world. (The earliest diagnosis of prostate cancer came from the 2700-year-old skeleton of a Scythian king in Russia.) Moreover, the new study now in press in the International Journal of Paleopathology
, suggests that earlier investigators may have underestimated the prevalence of cancer in ancient populations because high-resolution computerized tomography (CT) scanners capable of finding tumors measuring just 1 to 2 millimeters in diameter only became available in 2005. "I think earlier researchers probably missed a lot without this technology," says team leader Carlos Prates, a radiologist in private practice at Imagens Médicas Integradas in Lisbon.
Prostate cancer begins in the walnut-sized prostate gland, an integral part of the male reproductive system. The gland produces a milky fluid that is part of semen and it sits underneath a man's bladder. In aggressive cases of the disease, prostate cancer cells can metastasize, or spread, entering the bloodstream and invading the bones. After performing high-resolution scans on three Egyptian mummies in the collection of the National Archaeological Museum in Lisbon, Prates and colleagues detected many small, round, dense tumors in M1's pelvis and lumbar spine, as well as in his upper arm and leg bones. These are the areas most commonly affected by metastatic prostate cancer. "We could not find any evidence to challenge this diagnosis," Prates says.