Canadian researchers have discovered the first known case of cancer in a dinosaur, according to a study published in the August issue of the scientific journal The Lancet Oncology.
A leg bones from a Centrosaurus was discovered by paleontologists in 1989 in the Canadian province of Alberta. Experts initially believed that the deformed bone had suffered a fracture that healed. But recent examinations, under the microscope and using advanced technologies, such as high-resolution tomography, have revealed thata lump on the bone, the size of an apple, was actually a cancerous tumor.
“The dinosaurs did not have an easy life, several of them had healing fractures, or bone infections, “says study author Mark Crowther. On bones this old,”finding evidence of cancer is difficult“, he emphasizes: most tumors develop in soft tissues, poorly preserved by fossilization.
A tumor “very similar to human osteosarcoma”
Fine analysis of the bone of the prehistoric herbivore revealed a surprise. “Strangely, under the microscope, it looked a lot like human osteosarcoma, “a malignant tumor of the bones, explains Mark Crowther. “It’s fascinating to see that this cancer existed tens of millions of years ago and that it still exists,” notes the researcher, who heads the medical school at McMaster University in Ontario.
The tumor of this Centrosaurus, a horned herbivore which lived 76 to 77 million years ago, no doubt gave rise to metastases that made this giant lizard limp, the study authors believe.
Shows that cancer is not a recent invention
However, researchers believe that it was not this cancer that killed the Centrosaurus. The bone of his leg was found among a hundred bones apartment in the same herd of dinosaurs, probably swept away by a sudden disaster, such as a flood.
“The discovery of this cancer makes dinosaurs more real,” comments one of the study’s authors. “We often imagine them as mythical creatures, walking with a heavy and robust step, but (…) they suffered from diseases like humans“.
“By discovering an example dating back over 75 million years, we realize that (cancer) is part of life“, he concludes.” You have an animal that surely did not smoke, so this shows that cancer is not a recent invention, and that it is not exclusively linked to our environment “.