Ancient Egyptians may have attempted early cancer treatment surgery

Daily News Egypt
3 Min Read

From ancient sources, we know that the Egyptians were remarkably skilled in medicine for their time. They could create prostheses, perform tooth fillings, and diagnose and treat various illnesses and traumatic injuries. However, some conditions, such as cancer, remained beyond their reach.

An international team of experts recently analyzed two human skulls dating back thousands of years to explore the boundaries of traumatological and oncological therapies in ancient Egypt.

Tatiana Tondini, a researcher at the University of Tübingen and the study’s primary author, observed, “While ancient Egyptians demonstrated competence in dealing with complex cranial fractures, cancer remained a medical frontier.” The study was published in Frontiers in Medicine.

This discovery provides exceptional evidence of how Egyptian medicine may have attempted to address or investigate cancer over 4,000 years ago. “Our understanding of medical history has been significantly enriched by this remarkable perspective,” Tondini emphasized.

The researchers examined two skulls housed in the Duckworth Collection at the University of Cambridge. The first, skull and mandible (designated as 236), dates from 2687 to 2345 BCE and belonged to a 30- to 35-year-old man. The second, skull E270, belonged to an elderly female and was dated between 663 and 343 BCE.

Under a microscope, a large lesion on skull 236 consistent with severe tissue destruction—a condition known as neoplasm—was visible. Additionally, the cranium displayed about thirty small, spherical metastasized lesions.

The presence of cut marks surrounding these lesions, likely caused by a sharp object such as a metal instrument, astonished the researchers. “Our initial examination of the cut marks under the microscope left us astounded,” Tondini remarked.

Furthermore, skull E270 revealed a large lesion associated with a malignant tumour that caused bone degeneration. This suggests that cancer was prevalent in ancient times, even though modern lifestyles and environmental factors contribute to increased cancer risks.

Interestingly, skull E270 also exhibited two healed traumatic injury lesions. One of these injuries appeared to result from a violent, close-quarters incident involving a sharp weapon. The fact that the patient survived and received medical attention challenges assumptions about women’s roles in ancient conflicts.

In summary, these ancient Egyptian skulls offer valuable insights into early attempts at cancer treatment and the resilience of individuals in the face of illness and injury.


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