Earliest evidence of breast cancer found in ancient Egyptian skeleton
A 4,200-year old skull showing evidence of breast cancer- photo courtesy of Ministry of Antiquities

CAIRO: A 4,200-year-old skeleton displaying the earliest evidence of breast cancer in the world has been discovered in a tomb in the Valley of the Nobles, west of Aswan, the Antiquities Ministry stated Wednesday.

The skeleton, believed to be that of an adult woman, was unearthed during excavation work carried out by a Spanish anthropological team from the University of Jaen.

The bones of the woman bear signs of “extraordinary deterioration and the typical destructive damages provoked by the extension of a breast cancer as a metastasis in the bones,” according to the statement.

Bones of the woman's skeleton, courtesy of the Ministry of Antiquities

Bones of the woman’s skeleton, courtesy of the Ministry of Antiquities

Found in a tomb dating back to the end of the 6th Dynasty (2345B.C.-2181B.C.), “the skeleton belonged to an aristocrat woman who lived in the Elephantine Island located in front of the necropolis dedicated to the Nobles who ruled Egypt’s ancient province of Aswan,” said the statement.

The team, directed by Dr. Alejandro Jiménez, confirmed that “the virulent disease impeded her to carry out any kind of labor, but she was treated and taken care of for a long period preceding her death.”

The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, currently in the New York Academy of Medicine, is believed to contain the earliest written record of breast cancer in mankind’s history, ancient Egyptian history professor Sherif el-Sabban told The Cairo Post.

He added that the disease, as mentioned in the papyrus, was considered as “non-curable.”

“The text, dating from 1,600 B.C., contains diagnosis of eight cases of breast tumors along with treatment by cauterizing tools,” Sabban said.

In 2013, British researchers have discovered evidence of tumors that had developed and spread throughout the body in a 3,000-year-old skeleton found in a tomb in modern Sudan, Reuters reported.

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