Researchers Find 2000 Year Old Pregnant Mummy That May Have Had Cancer

Researchers at the Warsaw Mummy Project, an initiative started by archaeologists from the University of Warsaw in 2015, have found traces of cancer in an Egyptian mummy. The researchers reported in 2021 that the mummified woman was pregnant.

The facial skeleton defects of the 2000-year-old mummy indicate that the woman may have suffered from nasopharyngeal cancer, according to a statement released by Science in Poland. 

Professor Rafal Stec from the Department of Oncology at the Medical University of Warsaw said in the statement that firstly, there were unusual changes in the nasopharyngeal bones. According to mummy experts, these changes are not typical of the mummification process. 

He added that secondly, the opinions of radiologists based on computed tomography indicate the possibility of tumour changes in the bones.

Stec also said that the young age of the deceased and the lack of another cause of death indicate an ‘oncological cause’ with a high probability.

He said that a malignant tumour is suspected for now, and the only certain diagnosis is possible after a histopathological examination. This would give a 100 per cent certainty.

What do the researchers plan to do next?

Now, the plan of the mummy researchers is to collect tissue samples and compare them with cancer samples from other Egyptian mummies stored in tissue banks in the United States and the United Kingdom.

According to the statement, cancer in ancient Egypt was not rare. There are several known cases of confirmed nasopharyngeal cancer from ancient Egypt.

The mummy analysis can contribute to the development of modern medicine by revealing the ‘molecular signature’ of cancer that can be compared with currently occurring cancers, according to researchers.

This is expected to expand the knowledge of cancer evolution and indicate further research directions in both diagnostics and treatment. 

According to the statement, planned further research will determine the cause of the disease — whether it was associated with virus infection, for example HPV (Human Papillomavirus), or had a genetic background. 

The mummy of the pregnant woman was brought to Poland by Jan Wężyk-Rudzki in 1826 or 1827. A new study determined that the mummy was that of a woman. 

The mummy, belonging to the University of Warsaw, has been loaned to the National Museum in Warsaw since 1917. The mummy is displayed together with the sarcophagus at the permanent exhibition of the Ancient Art Gallery.

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