The world’s oldest known case of breast cancer and multiple myeloma, which is a type of bone marrow cancer, was recently discovered by an international team, including researchers from the anthropology group of University de Granada (UGR) in Spain.
The discoveries were made by conducting computed tomography (CT) scans of two mummies found in the pharaonic necropolis of Qubbet El-Hawa in Aswan, Egypt, according to a press release from the university.
Led by Miguel Cecilio Botella López from the Department of Legal Medicine, Toxicology, and Physical Anthropology at UGR, the team of researchers examined the two mummies and found that the woman with breast cancer died around 2000 BC, while the man with multiple myeloma died around 1800 BC.
The findings of the team showed that both individuals belonged to the ruling classes, or at least to the wealthy classes, of the governing Egyptian families of Elephantine.
CT scanning techniques, which the researchers used to reach their findings, provided better results than traditional methods, which invariably lead to significant loss of the mummy wrapping, as well as to partial destruction of the dressing and the body itself, according to the university.
Tomography scanning techniques are more precise when it comes to ascertaining information about the insides of the mummies, as well as capturing minute details in the dressing and about the embalming techniques employed, read the statement.
The research team applied the same CT scanning techniques on two fully intact mummies from the Late Period of ancient Egypt, the dressings on which were also still intact.
“Both mummies were still wrapped in spectacular shrouds of multi-coloured faience beads, which in turn resemble a mask. The body structures of mummies from this period are superbly preserved and we can discern very clearly what their faces looked like,” López explained in the press release.
The researchers carried out reconstructions by using specific software, to conduct detailed studies of these mummies from the Late Period, one of which is the body of a boy who was around 9 years of age, while the other is that of a teenage girl.
The two oldest mummies affected by cancer have been reduced to bones and are wrapped in a considerable number of bandages, and these details suggest that embalming techniques changed over time and that the techniques described by the Greek historian Herodotus were only established in the Late Period, at least in that southern part of Egypt, from the 10th century onwards.
The Radiodiagnosis Service of Aswan University Hospital helped the research team obtain the images of the mummies. Staff from the Radiodiagnosis Service of the Campus de la Salud Hospital in Granada also collaborated on this groundbreaking research project.
One of the most important findings of the study was finding evidence that breast cancer and multiple myeloma were already present in humans in ancient times.