Scientists stumbled upon a surprising new discovery revealing cancer may not be the modern illness many assume it is.
Experts from the University of the Witwatersrand's Evolutionary Studies Institute and the South African Centre for Excellence in PalaeoSciences found evidence of cancer in two ancient bones dating nearly 2 million years ago, CNN reports.
One specimen’s 1.7 million-year-old foot bone showed signs of bone cancer, as did a second individual’s 2-million-year-old spine.
Until now, scientists and researchers assumed modern-day phenomena and external factors -- such as longevity and bad habits -- fueled cancer.
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“Yet again extensive ancient Egyptian data, along with other data from across the millennia, has given modern society a clear message -- cancer is man-made and something that we can and should address,” said Professor Rosalie David in 2010, Phys.org reports.
However, the new discovery challenges this previously held generalization.
"This kind of research changes perceptions of cancer," explains Patrick Randolph-Quinney of the University of Central Lancashire. "The takeaway is the notion that cancer is a huge continuous problem in the developed world. Even if we have very healthy, perfect lifestyles we still have the capacity for cancer. It is an inherent part of our evolutionary process."
Edward John Odes of Wits University's School of Anatomical Sciences says he was surprised by how similar the bones and cancers are to modern ones.
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"We tested this particular bone with a known modern human osteosarcoma specimen, and it looked identical. Millions of years old, and you wouldn't be able to tell it apart,” he said.
"What we do have is that these types of cancers existed so many years ago, and we are seeing the same thing today," he added. "Normally, in an evolutionary biological situation, you'd see change."
Already scientists are trying to use the new information to further aid cancer research.
"There has to be something else that's [causing cancer]," Odes added. "We don't know know what it is at this stage. We know the capacity for malignancy is ancient. We also know that there are mechanisms that bring these tumors and cancers. The question is, how can we apply these mechanisms to understand the evolution of cancer from ancient times into this modern world?"