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Oldest Evidence for Breast Cancer Found in the Remains of An Ancient Egyptian Woman

The 4,200-year-old remains of an adult woman who lived at the time of the 6th Pharaonic Dynasty discovered in Egypt allegedly constitute the oldest evidence for breast cancer.


The Egyptian woman whose skeletal remains were made the subject of scrutiny by researchers from the University of Jaen, Spain, was an aristocrat from Elephantine, situated in Egypt’s southernmost town, once part of Nubia. What was left of her were buried in the necropolis of Qubbet el-Hawa, west of Aswan in the south of Egypt.



Cancer has hitherto remained almost completely unnoticed in archaeological records. Consequently, it was thought that cancer was but a recent killer-disease, a result of modern lifestyles. However, the new discovery suggests otherwise, as have some other studies.

In a study done last year, published in PLOS ONE, the remains of a young man living in Ancient Nubia around 1,200 BC were described as having developed metastatic carcinoma. It seems that people of the distant past were affected by the disease; they just did not live long enough to witness the malignant forms of cancer that only show in older people.

The newly-found bones of the Egyptian woman revealed peculiar characteristics. Extreme deterioration was observed by the researchers.

“The study of her remains shows the typical destructive damage provoked by the extension of a breast cancer as a metastasis,” Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty said in a statement.


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