Contrary to what we believe in, cancer isn’t a modern-day product, born out of inhaling toxic fumes and living unhealthily, although those are legitimate causes. A 240-million-year-old animal that lived around the time dinosaurs began to appear on earth. The shell-less animal, Pappochelys, is a reptile that is closely related to the turtle. According to a New York Times article, a femur bone belonging to the pappochelys was located in an ancient lake bed in Germany. The bone showed tell-tale signs of cancer, a finding that has shocked the medical community. Is it Possible to Own Dinosaur Fossils? Leonardo DiCaprio's Interest in Buying 150-Million-Year-Old Bones Upsets Researchers.
Researchers responsible for the find published their observation in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Oncology, describing the cancer-stricken femur the oldest evidence of the disease existing among amniotes.
Since most cancers are seen in soft-tissue examinations and biopsies, fossils rarely show signs of the disease. Hence this is a landmark finding for researchers who have been studying cancer from a historical perspective.
Bioarchaeologist Michaela Binder, who has researcher cancer in ancient human beings, told the NYT, “When it comes to our understanding of cancer in the past, we are really just beginning.”
According to Binder, it’s difficult to study cancer in ancient turtles and mammoths because the fossils don’t give away a lot of evidence.
It was sheer luck that led the researchers to the femur, which was originally collected by Rainer Schoch of the Stuttgart State Museum of National History.
Yara Haridy, a palaeontologist with a background in medicine first made the discovery, when she discovered a jagged growth on the femur. She said that paleopathology studies the marks left by illnesses and injuries, which can tell a lot about the lives of these animals.
She worked through an elimination process to arrive at the conclusion that it was cancer. “You go from the most general possibility to more specific and really strange diagnoses,” she explains to NYT. Ichthyosaur, The 145-Million-Year-Old Fossil Uncovered From Kutch Becomes Subject of Debate Between Students and Delhi Scientists.
After examining the CT scans of the bone, the researchers checked out every single possibility. The abnormality on the bone can be mistaken for incorrect healing, but they found that the bone had no history of an injury.
Other possibilities such as a congenital abnormality were considered, but such an anomaly would be present on both sides of the bone. Friction is one of the causes of bone deformity, but in this case, it seemed unlikely because muscles protect the femur on all sides.
The researchers also ruled out the possibility of bone diseases, because they may wear it away not build it up. Benign tumours generally form on the cartilage and look entirely different. After ruling out all possibilities, the team were zeroed down on bone cancer, the likes of which are found in humans.
The ground-breaking revelation has helped researches understand a previously misunderstood fact about cancers. Without any evidence from fossils, it was widely believed that the disease was caused by unhealthy lifestyle, pollution and extended human life span (since ageing is a cause of cancer).
Haridy says that the discovery is crucial. Presence of a cancerous tumour on the prehistoric animal’s bones suggests that cancer is not something that happened recently as a result of human evolution.