Cancer is one of the most prevalent life-threatening diseases. Humans have about a 40% chance of developing a type of cancer over their lifetimes, according to the American Cancer Society. Though the spotlight has only been shown on cancer relatively recently with medical advances, the disease has been affecting humans for much longer. A mummy found in an Egyptian tomb was recently found to have bone cancer.

The mummified man, nicknamed “Hen” lived around 2,000 years ago, but he was just recently given a full CT scan at the Crouse Hospital in Syracuse. Hopefully, he didn’t give patients in the hospital a scare about long hospital wait times. The doctors wanted to find out how he died; he was first examined by doctors in 2006 but they weren’t able to give a confident diagnosis. Over the past ten years, equipment has upgraded a lot, and now the CT scanners are much more powerful and able to detect in greater detail. The doctors hoped that the new CT scanning technology would give them some answers.

The mummy was given a CT scan. Image credits:

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The CT scan was able to give the doctors the information that they were looking for. Hen fell victim to cancer.

“He had a tumor on his Fibula which is one of the two bones of the lower leg,” Dr. Mark Levinsohn of Crouse Hospital explains. “Looking at it, it had all the characteristics of a malignant tumor and one that’s somewhat rare. So, here we have a rare circumstance and a rare tumor and that evoked our interest a lot.”

However, it is impossible to know the exact cause of Hen’s death. He may have died because of the tumour, either directly or indirectly through failed surgery or suicide, or another way altogether. Ancient Egyptians did not have the knowledge or technology to treat cancer, though crude operations have been found by archeologists in Egypt previously.

Though cancer has been found in mummies before, it has been quite rare. Carcinogens were still present 2,000 years ago, such as from burning wood, but we have just recently developed sophisticated enough technology to detect cancer in ancient human remains. It is hard to say whether cancer is more prevalent now, given the very limited sample that we have to compare to, but we can say that humans have fallen victim to cancer for thousands of years.