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Int J Paleopathol. 2018 Jun;21:178-185. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpp.2017.08.007. Epub 2017 Aug 23.

Ancient cancers and infection-induced oncogenesis.

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Department of Biology, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY 40292, United States. Electronic address:


Cancers have been reported in bone and soft tissue of ancient agricultural populations. Fossilized bones from prehistoric periods provide evidence of tumors but only one example of cancer. Difficulties in diagnosing the causes of lesions in mummified tissue and fossilized bone, and in interpreting the prevalence of cancers from remains, draw attention to the need for complementary approaches to assess the occurrence of cancer in ancient populations. This paper integrates current knowledge about pathogen induction of cancer with phylogenetic analyses of oncogenic pathogens, and concludes that pathogen-induced cancers were probably generally present in ancient historic and prehistoric human populations. Consideration of cancers in extant human populations and wildlife lends credence to this conclusion, with the caveat that the presence of cancers may depend on population-specific exposures to oncogenic parasites and carcinogens.


Cancer; Evolution; Infection; Malignant; Oncogenesis; Viruses


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