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Was surgery used by ancient Egyptians to treat brain cancer?



Ancient Egyptians may have attempted to treat cancer through surgery over 4,000 years ago, as revealed by a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine. This discovery sheds light on the advanced medical practices of one of the world’s most significant civilizations and their efforts to combat diseases such as cancer. The findings indicate that ancient Egyptian physicians were likely performing surgical procedures on brain tumours to better understand this deadly disease, making this potentially the oldest known case of surgical cancer treatment.

Researchers studying ancient skulls from Egypt discovered evidence of invasive procedures for brain tumours, suggesting that physicians were actively investigating and treating cancer during that time. Using advanced imaging technologies such as computed tomography (CT), the researchers were able to identify cut marks and lesions on the skulls, indicating surgical interventions. The presence of these procedures on the skulls from thousands of years ago demonstrates the ancient Egyptians’ efforts to combat cancer using surgical techniques.

The skulls, known as 236 and 270, provided valuable insight into the medical practices of ancient Egypt. Skull 236 belonged to a male individual with multiple lesions believed to be from malignant tumours, while skull 270 belonged to an older woman with similar cancerous lesions. The presence of cut marks surrounding the lesions on skull 236 suggests that surgical procedures were performed, although it is unclear whether they were exploratory or treatment-related. The discoveries highlight the ancient Egyptians’ attempts to understand and treat cancer through surgical means.

Ancient Egyptian medicine was known to be more advanced than that of other ancient civilizations, with references to physicians and medical procedures dating back to that period. The Edwin Smith Papyrus, a 3,600-year-old document, contains detailed descriptions of medical observations, diagnoses, and treatments for various conditions, including cancer. While the term “cancer” may not have been used, the descriptions in the papyrus indicate that ancient Egyptians were familiar with the disease and attempted to classify and treat different types of tumours.

The recent findings challenge the belief that cancer was a rare disease in ancient times and highlight the prevalence of oncological conditions throughout history. While cancer may not have been as well understood or treatable in ancient Egypt as it is today, the discoveries of ancient surgical interventions for cancerous tumours suggest a proactive approach to combating the disease. The insights gained from studying ancient Egyptian medical practices can enhance our understanding of the evolution of cancer treatment and its prevalence in human history.

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