A tumor on the ribs of a 120,000-year-old skeleton reveals at least one
Neanderthal suffered a cancer that is common in modern-day humans, U.S.
This discovery of a bone tumor known as a fibrous dysplasia predates previous
evidence of this kind of tumor by well over 100,000 years, David Frayer from the
University of Kansas said.
Writing in the journal PLoS ONE, Frayer and colleagues from other institutions
said while fibrous dysplasia in modern-day humans occurs more frequently than
other bone tumors, "evidence for cancer is extremely rare in the human fossil
"This case shows that Neanderthals, living in an unpolluted environment, were
susceptible to the same kind of cancer as living humans."
Because the cancerous rib, recovered in present-day Croatia, is an incomplete
specimen the researchers said they were unable to comment on the overall health
effects the tumor may have had on the individual.
Neanderthals had average life spans around half those of modern humans in
developed countries and were exposed to different environmental factors, the
"Given these factors, cases of neoplastic disease are rare in prehistoric human
populations," they wrote. "Against this background, the identification of a more
than 120,000-year-old Neanderthal rib with a bone tumor is surprising, and
provides insights into the nature and history of the association of humans to