This Shit’s Been Around Forever — Colon Cancer

Maybe not forever and ever but colon cancer has been thought to be a recent disease. One that is caused during the Industrial Age by our proclivity for laying around, being obese and eating unhealthy food. Now with the discovery of 200-year-old mummies, it is thought to be older than previously thought.

The Mummies

Twenty years ago, over 250 mummies were discovered near Vac, Hungary. The corpses were mummified through natural conditions of low temperature and humidity along with sufficient ventilation. They date back to a period 1731-1838. They were found in a secret crypt underneath a church. With the remarkably preserved soft tissue, the mummies have proven to be a bonanza for genetic research from a time long before DNA research was an idea let alone a possibility.

Genetic markers

The Adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) gene was found in one of the mummies. The APC gene was thought to be a recent mutation brought on by modern amenities but to find it existed over 200 years ago was a huge surprise. We now know it has a much older history and its causes may be more complicated. This will give researchers a chance to explore the origins of the gene and hopefully, learn a way to fight it.

Colon cancer

Colon cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in America. It is 3rd among men and 4th among women. What makes it difficult to fight is that it generally shows no symptoms. That is why colonoscopies are so important. It may be the only way to catch the disease in time to fight it.

Which came first?

What truly opened up our questions of the origin is which came first? The colon cancer or the gene for colon cancer? It was thought that modern living was the environment that first mutated the APC gene. If so, then maybe working on our own personal environment is the key. By changing our environment, we can change our bodies.

But, what if the gene was here all along? The modern living only made it easier to come to the forefront. If that is true, then, if we carry the gene, are we fated to get colon cancer? While modern living may be a factor in making it happen sooner, it still means we will eventually get the cancer if we live long enough.

In conclusion

The genetic research was conducted on only 20 of the original 200+ mummies discovered making the sample size small. It is hoped that by taking samples from more to increase the variety of sources, researchers will be able to tell how common this gene was in the 1700s. Researchers also want to understand how the gene has changed since then — if at all. This would tell them whether the gene is a result of genetic mutation or also in cooperation with the environment of fast food and comfortable couches. The more we can understand it, the more we can control it.


In 200 years, what insight would your body give to the future?