Cancer is likely to be a disease of the modern era, caused by lifestyle and diet, a study of ancient remains from fossils of Egyptian mummies suggests.

A review, by scientists in Manchester, U.K., of mummies and literature from the Egyptian period found tumors to be extremely rare.

They also looked at fossil records and found that cancers hardly appeared until more modern times when poor diet and pollution affected quality of life.

Michael Zimmerman, a visiting professor, said his team found only one isolated cancer in one mummy during an extensive study of hundreds of human remains.

They examined slivers of tissues from the mummies under powerful microscopes.

“The virtual absence of malignancies in mummies must be interpreted as indicating their rarity in antiquity, indicating that cancer-causing factors are limited to societies affected by modern industrialization,” he added.

He dismissed arguments that cancer was so rare in mummies because ancient Egyptians did not live long enough to develop cancer, pointing out that his team had found evidence of other age-related ailments such as brittle bones or hardening of the arteries.

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