Evidence of ancient cancer case found in fossil on storage shelf in Panama City

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Multiple views of the young teen's right humerus arm bone that runs from the shoulder to the elbow show where the tumor left its mark. Credit: Nicole Smith-Guzman.

[O]ne day Nicole Smith-Guzmán, a bioarchaeologist and a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) opened the box and noticed that there was something a little bit different about [a human skeleton on a shelf in Panama City]. The humerus of one arm featured a lumpy calcified mass.

This turned out to be the oldest known case of cancer in Central America.

The bones had been excavated in the Panamanian province of Bocas del Toro in 1970 by the now-deceased archaeologist Olga Linares, who had set out to study the agricultural practices of people in the area.

Smith-Guzmán is the lead author of a new research paper describing what she believes is the oldest example of cancer ever found at a pre-Columbian site in Central America.

The bones were found carefully arranged in a midden, or mound of organic refuse.

The exact type of cancer which afflicted the teenager is not known for certain, though it was certainly one of several types of sarcoma. It would have caused intermittent pain in the right arm as the tumor grew and expanded through the bone.

“We see that the people who buried them cared about this person,” Smith-Guzmán says. “This wasn’t just discarding the body of a diseased person. We think this was a ritual burial.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Read full, original post: Oldest Cancer Case in Central America Discovered