What ancient fossils can teach us about cancer today


When you think about cancer, you may think about how it has touched your life personally through a friend or a loved one. You may also consider how cancer is often in the news as novel treatments are tested daily. It seems to many, including medical students, that cancer is a disease affecting those in the here and now. While this is certainly the case, Chris Beard, Curator and Chair of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, encourages med students to learn more about the evidence for cancer in fossil animals. Not only does in give perspective on how old cancer really is (hundreds of millions of years at least), it also helps students understand cancer within an evolutionary context. Dr. Beard also hopes that, if given a dramatic example of cancer in fossils, medical students will be more likely to remember the experience and to correctly identify and diagnose cancer in future patients.

Fascinating stuff! More information and a great little video featuring Dr. Beard, a cancerous fossil, and medical student Katherin Peperzak can be found here.

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