A 120,000-year-old Neanderthal bone has been found to contain what scientists are calling the world's oldest tumor.
Anthropologists have confirmed that the growths discovered in a Neanderthal rib bone that was excavated more than 100 years ago in Croatia are fibrous dysplasia, a type of tumor still seen in humans today.
"[The tumors] range all the way from being totally benign, where you wouldn’t recognize them, to being extremely painful," David Frayer, an anthropologist at the University of Kansas who reported the findings along with his colleagues in the Public Library of Science journal this week, told LiveScience.com. "The size of this one, and the bulging of it, probably caused the individual pain."
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Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania X-rayed the bone fragments in the 1980s but the team from Kansas recently subjected the samples to a higher-quality, higher-resolution X-ray and scanning, which revealed a hollow shell where a network of spongy bone should be (fibrous dysplasia, which is caused by a spontaneous genetic mutation in the cells that produce bone, eats away the so-called spongy bone, according to the Mayo Clinic).
Frayer said findings like this one are one-of-a-kind.
"People of that time didn't live as long as they do today; plus, there weren't very many of them compared to the Egyptians and people today," he told LiveScience. "So finding evidence of tumors and evidence of cancers, is — I don't know if I want to say 'lucky' — but there isn't a lot of evidence for it."
Previously, the oldest known tumors came from Egyptian mummies and dated back only 4,000 years or so.
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