Ancient British Cemeteries Lay Bare Medieval Cancer Truths in Eye-Opening Study

Prior to the study, it was believed that the most significant causes of ill health in medieval times were infectious diseases, such as bubonic plague, as well as malnutrition and warfare-related injuries.

Cancer rates in medieval and pre-Industrial Revolution-era Britain were as much as 10 times higher what was previously believed, a study carried out by a group of scientists from the University of Cambridge has revealed.

After examining the remains retrieved from six ancient cemeteries in the area, and resorting to statistical projections, the researchers were able to disprove previous studies. Earlier research had suggested less than one percent of medieval British residents had suffered from cancer.

However, the new findings, published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Cancer, have determined the actual number was more likely to be in the 9 to 14 percent range.

Medieval Bone Samples Scanned

Researchers took X-rays and CT scans of skeletal remains of 96 men, 46 women, and one person of undetermined sex, buried between the sixth and 16th centuries AD, to detect signs of potentially fatal cancer.

Bone samples were taken from the femur, pelvis, and spine, areas – deemed most likely to be affected by cancers spreading from soft tissues or organs into the bones.

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