Dinosaur skellingtonCancer is often regarded as a disease of modern living, caused by our high-fat, low-exercise lifestyle, too much boozing and smoking, or sinister ‘things in the environment’.

But while it’s true that our sedentary lifestyles and bad diets have changed the rates of certain types of cancer (notably lung or bowel cancer), the disease is actually as old as life itself.

References to cancer have been found in four-thousand-year-old Egyptian papyruses. Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine”, is credited with being the first to recognise the difference between benign and malignant tumours in Greece in about 400 BC.

And signs of cancer have even been found in fossilised dinosaur bones.

Which brings us, in a round-about way, to the actual subject of this post.

Astronomers studying the depths of our universe have noticed that the amount of radiation reaching the earth has varied considerably over time, leading some to suggest that it was radiation-induced cancer that wiped out the dinosaurs all those millennia ago.

So it was interesting to read this week that this theory has been effectively disproved. US scientists looked for signs of bone cancer in the fossils of over 700 dinosaurs, and compared their results to cancer rates in modern birds and reptiles.

They found absolutely no difference, suggesting that solar radiation had no part to play in the wiping out of our illustrious reptilian forebears.

And funnily enough, their results also rule out another theory, proposed by G. Larson et al. in the mid 80s:

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