You might think cancer is one disease, but really it is more than 100. All types of cancers have something in common. Cancer starts in our cells. Our bodies are made out of trillions of cells, which are grouped together to form tissues and organs like muscles, bones, lungs etc. Genes inside each cell tell it to do certain functions like to grow or die. Normally our cells follow these orders and we remain healthy. When the instructions in the cells get mixed up, cells start to grow and divide uncontrollably. This can form a lump known as a tumor. Cancerous cells can spread to other places in the body.
In Germany, it was found that a turtle from about 240 million years ago had a bone-like structure in one of its back legs. This bone resulted to be a tumor. It was described in JAMA Oncology that even during the Triassic period, in which the first dinosaurs appeared, animals could have mutations that could lead to cancer. This finding is rare since cancer is extremely hard to find in the fossil record because it is hard to see it in the tissue left on the fossil. Cancer found in this turtle can best be compared to osteosarcoma found in humans.
It is hard to tell whether this shell-less turtle’s death was caused by cancer. Scientist’s have also found similar cancers in the bones of other animals like fish. Nevertheless, this cancer is the first ever discovered in an amniote. The discovery also helps eliminate a belief held by some experts that “diseases change so much over time”. This has brought many arguments to the table because now we can’t only blame substances like alcohol and cigarettes for giving us cancer. This is evidence that many cancers we have today and their genes have ancient origins.