Earliest hominin cancer: 1.7 million year old osteosarcoma

Un osteosarcoma en el metatarso de un humano prehistórico
1.7 Million Years Ago

While it is often thought of as a modern disease, it is clear that cancer has been plaguing humans and their ancestors since the beginning of humankind. 

One of the oldest known cancers affecting a hominin is the osteosarcoma shown above. Osteosarcoma is a type of bone cancer. It is shown growing on the the 5th metatarsal (a bone in the foot) of a human ancestor who lived about 1.7 million years ago. The bone was found in the Swartkans cave in South Africa.1

There is also evidence for an even older but non-cancerous tumor found in hominins. The skeleton of a young male Australopithecus sediba from Malapa, South Africa showed evidence of a tumor in his sixth thoracic vertebra.2 This growth is thought to have arisen almost 2 million years ago. Based on the characteristics of the growth and the patient, the tumor is thought to most likely be osteoid osteoma, a benign bone-forming tumor that more commonly affects males and those in their 20s.