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The Cancer Of Modern Life by Xavier Connolly
Medical research insititutes continue to spend vast amounts of money on cancer research and the less level headed types involved, the boy - scientists twiiter about finding a cure for cancer as if it were one disease with a single identifiable cause. New research however suggests cancer is just one of the hazards of modern life.

The Cancer Of Modern Life
by Ian R Thorpe.
2010-09-19
CREATIVE COMMONS: Attribute, non commercial, no derivs.
KEYWORDS: cancer, disease, health, ancient, society, medical, research, tumor, pollution, death, childhood, biology, tissue, environment, diet, lifestyle, life

Researchers looking at almost a thousand mummies from ancient Egypt and South America found only a handful suffered from cancer when now the various forms of cancer account for nearly one in three deaths.

The findings suggest that it is modern lifestyles and pollution levels caused by industry that are the main cause of the disease and that it is not a naturally occurring condition.

The study showed the rate of occurrence has risen dramatically since the Industrial Revolution. It is tempting to point out that cancer is an ailment of old age and so, because the average age at death is to double what it was in the eighteenth century this accounts for the increase. One of the most noteable featires highlighted by the stydy however is that incidences of childhood cancers have shown an even more marked increase that those affecting adults. While this proves little it does help establish that the rise is not simply due to people living longer.

In industrialised societies, cancer is second only to cardiovascular disease as a cause of death, Professor Rosalie David, a biomedical Egyptologist at the University of Manchester reported. "In ancient civilisations however it was extremely rare. There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer. So it has to be a man-made disease, down to pollution and changes to our diet and lifestyle.

"Cancer appears to be a modern disease created by modern life."

To identify the origins of cancer Proffessors David and Michael Zimmerman examined the mummified remains of hundreds of bodies dating back up to 3,000 years and also studied fossils and ancient medical texts. Despite using well established techniques for examining rehydrated tissue under the microscope they found only five cases of tumours, most of which were benign.

Fossilised remains from the mesolithic and paleolithic eras also yield little evidence of cancer. Earliers scientific studies have documented a few dozen examples in animal and Neanderthal bones but most of these are disputed, the study in journal Nature Reviews Cancer reports.

They did find examples of other modern day aged related diseases such as hardening of the arteries and arthritis, which they said dismissed the argument that ancient humans did not live long enough to develop cancer. It is easy to be misled by averages and we should remember that though the average age at death was much lower certain individuals who were lucky enough to avoid the diseases (plagues) that were then incurable but now are easily dealth with as well as starvation, drought, natural diaster and violent death in wars still could live to a great age.

The mummified bodies from both rich and poor backgrounds showed that the average life expectancy ranged from 25 to 50, depending on their background but a few individuals had lived well into their seventies and even past eighty.

Modern records show that the disease rate has risen massively since the Industrial Revolution. Could there be any distortions due to the pasing of time? Apparently it is unlikely, One biologist commenting on the report said: "In an ancient society lacking surgical intervention, evidence of cancer should remain in all cases. The virtual absence of malignancies in mummies must be interpreted as indicating their rarity in antiquity, indicating that cancer causing factors are limited to societies affected by modern industrialisation.”

Arguments that tumours may have disintegrated over time were dismissed. Experimental studies have indicated that if anything cancerous tissues are better preserved than normal tissues.

As the team moved through the ages, it was not until the 17th century that they found descriptions of breast and other cancers. Scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps was first diagnosed in 1775, nasal cancer in snuff users in 1761 and Hodgkin’s disease in 1832.

About one in three people in the UK will get cancer so it is much more commonplace in the modern world than it was in the past. Experts on cancer prevention now say a healthy diet, regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight can prevent about a third of the most common cancers so it is possible our ancestors’ lifestyle reduced their risk from cancer. Having said that however we must remember in the past people were exposed to pollutants in unpurified drinking water, toxins that occurred in low tech industrial processes and because of poor hygiene.

One area the study could not possibly have taken into account is our exposure to stress in the high pressure societies of the modern world. It is perhaps premature to suggest that cancer is largely man-made. There are many overlapping factors at work and just as we can never truly pinpoint smoking as the cause of one individual's lung cancer when modern lungs are assaulted with so many other carcinogens so we cannot simply say the increase in cancer related illnesses is down to modern living.

It is tempting to look for simple answers and blame the increased risk of cancer risk on external things like pollution and chemicals more than from things we can exercise some personal control over, such as our lifestyles. And in the end our chances of avoiding serious cancers come down to that great unquantifiable factor, susceptibility.

In the end of course, maybe we are just not as tough as our ancestors were.

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