Cancer of the Breast in the Antiquity
Marvin J. Allison and Enrique Gerszten
Virginia Commonwealth University
Medical College of Virginia Campus, Richmond, VA
Carcinoma of the breast is the most common non-skin malignancy in women, and a modern woman who lives
to 90 has one in eight chances of developing breast cancer. Despite its worldwide dissemination breast
cancer appears relatively uncommon in pre-historic times. Possibly this is due to the limited survival
preventing women from reaching the "cancer age". The current study was of breasts from 36 Peruvian,
Andean females between the ages of 15 to 40 plus who died 1,000 to 3,000 years ago. Thirty one percent
died the before the age of 21, fifty five percent died between 21-39, and only 14% reached the geriatric
age of 40 or more. Twenty percent of these women died in childbirth from hemorrhage, another 7% died of
pneumonia, and 10% were beaten to death. The remainder died from miscellaneous causes. Visible breast
lesions were seen in 23% and these were ulcers, nodular infectious lesions due to fungi, and cysts.
Allison, Gerszten, Munizaga, and Santoro published a paper in the Bulletin of the New York Academy of
Medicine in 1980 on a case of metastatic tumor of bone in a Tiahuanaco female who died 750 AD. She was
about 45 years old and had no soft tissue, but she had metastatic lesions of tumor to nine bones: skull,
right and left innominate, right femur, sacrum, eighth thoracic vertebra, the fourth and fifth lumbar
vertebrae, and the sternum. Radiographically the lesions were osteolytic, and sclerotic. Their
distribution and nature suggests that the primary in a woman over 40 is most likely a breast cancer.
The present study is on breast histological sections of 36 women were to see if any soft tissue
malignancies could be found. Unfortunately the parenchymal cell structure is generally autolyzed in
these mummies, but the protein residue of the cell is still intact in the general location of the
parenchymal cells. A molecular study was undertaken using the following stains and antibodies: H&E
stain, Masson, Trichrome stain, Estrogen receptor monoclonal antibody, Progesterone receptor, monoclonal
antibody, MAM 6 monoclonal antibody (milk membrane), Ca15-3 for breast cancer antigen, B6-2 for breast
cancer antigen, Cu18 (BCA225) for breast cancer antigen, Ca125 An ovarian cancer negative control
antigen, Anti 19-9 A hepatobiliary cancer negative control antigen, P53 Tumor suppressor antibody,
P21 Tumor suppressor antibody, P27 Tumor suppressor antibody, P16 Tumor suppressor antibody, BRCA1
Familial gene tumor suppressor antibody.
Tissues were cut to 5 microns and in situ immunohistochemistry using Biogenex alkaline phosphatase
kits with fast red was used to visualize the positive reactions. Appropriate negative controls were used
as well as two antibodies for tissue other than breast to detect organ nonspecificity.
The only woman who reacted to all the above tests as a possible breast cancer patient was an over 40
year old woman who belonged to the Alto Ramirez culture and died 2,500 years ago. She was positive for
ER, negative for PR and MAM6. She reacted strongly to the breast cancer antibodies Ca15-3, B6-2 and CU
18, but was negative to the non-breast markers for ovarian and hepatobiliary cancer. She was negative to
the tumor suppressor antibodies P53, and P 21, but she had the tumor suppressors P27, P16, and the
A modern breast cancer control from a geriatric woman of 50 was strongly positive for Ca 15-3 and Cu18
breast cancer antibodies and negative for P53 and P21 tumor suppressors. She was positive for tumor
suppressors P27, P16, and BRCA1.
Histological the tumor suppressor reactions that were negative with fast red are surrounded by red
areas of normal tissues. The cancer antibody areas are with scattered red areas in these areas and
negative elsewhere. This suggests that these were areas of a possible breast cancer. Many of these
women had MAM6 strongly positive and milk was seen in many using a simple methylene blue stain. Among
the teenagers, one 15 and one 16 year old, had probably just begun their menstrual cycle. One teenager
18 years old died in childbirth after delivering one twin, the second twin was found in utero at autopsy
1,000 years later. She is the youngest pregnancy that we have seen in our extensive studies.
This case of possible breast cancer is based on antibodies currently used in modern cancer diagnosis,
and while it does not represent a tissue diagnosis where cellular structure is seen, it will probably be
the only method for a diagnosis in mummy tissue. To date there has not been a single case diagnosed in
all the numerous mummies autopsied in Egypt by Ruffer and other investigators around the world.
Brothwell and Sandiston reviewed Roman times, and concluded that written reports by a number of early
Roman writers verify that breast cancer was frequent, and had a poor prognosis.
- Allison, M.J., Gerszten, E., Munizaga, J. and Santoro C.: Metastatic tumor of bone in a Tiahianaco female: Bull. N.Y. Acad. Med. 56:581-587, 1980.
- Brothwell, D. and Sandison, A.T.: Diseases in Antiquity: Charles C. Thomas 197, Springfield, II.
- Long, E.R.: A History of Pathology: 1928, Williams and Wilkins, Baltimore.
- Lewison, E.F.: Breast Cancer: 1955, London, Balliere, Tindall, and Cox.