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Medieval skeletons may have hidden cancer rates higher than expected.

Cancer is not the only suffering today. New archaeological analyzes show that ferocious growth in medieval England is not as rare as we once thought.

Even before widespread smoking, the industrial revolution, and the current rise in life expectancy, it seems that cancer is still the leading cause of the disease.

Scanning and x-rays of 143 medieval skeletons from six tombs in and around Cambridge, archaeologists estimate that there will be a quarter of cancer cases between the 6th and 16th centuries. Is in the present

That’s 10 times higher than previous estimates, bringing the cancer incidence less than one percent.

“Until now, it was thought that the most important causes of ill health in the Middle Ages were infectious diseases such as dysentery and the plague, as well as malnutrition and injuries due to accidents or fighting,”

; said Jenna Dittmar, archaeologist. From the University of Cambridge

“We now need to add cancer as one of the major diseases that plagued people of the Middle Ages.”

Historically, analysis of medieval skeletons in Britain focused only on the outside of the bone, but Dittmar and her colleagues also decided to look for evidence of internal bone metastasis.

263379 webCT scan of bones from medieval skull with white arrows showing metastases (Bram Mulder)

Scanning parts of the skeleton that are likely to have cancer growth, such as the spine, pelvis and femur, the team found signs of cancer in five people in the Middle Ages.

Most cases are confined to the pelvis. But there was a middle-aged man who had lesions spread all over his skeleton, suggesting he was blood cancer.

263378 webUnearthed medieval spine with white arrow indicating cancer spread. (Jenna Ditmar)

“Using a CT scan, we were able to see cancer lesions hidden inside the bone that look perfectly normal on the outside,” Dittmar said.

These types of scans can detect bone metastasis in approximately 75 percent of the time, and more than a third of people today who die of cancer show these bone metastases.

Based on these statistics, the authors think the minimum prevalence of all cancers in the UK in the Middle Ages was between 9 and 14 percent.

Over the centuries the rate has increased. In modern Britain, where people live longer, breathe more pollution and are exposed to more viruses, up to 50 percent of people develop cancer by the time they die.

Figuring out how much cancer incidence has increased in recent years is important as it helps us figure out where our greatest threat comes from. It is not currently clear how much smoking and pollutants affect our overall disease rates as we have no basis to address them.

The historical text is not particularly reliable and difficult to compare with modern data, while archaeological remains are much more reliable, especially with the technology we have today.

Obviously, the sample size of the current study is small and focuses only on one region. It was also a tricky business to diagnose cancer centuries later.

Even taking these precautions But research suggests that we have many cases of medieval cancers without looking into the bones.

“We need further studies using CT scans of normal skeletal regions and periods to see how common cancers in major civilizations of the past have been,” said Piers Mitchell, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge, the lead author of the study. The first said

The study is published in CancerThe said document was not available at the time of publication. But you can check the transcript in advance at Academia.edu.

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