Did you know that dinosaurs had cancer?

Centrosaurus apertus

Most people probably don’t think about cancer when looking at pictures of dinosaurs, or impressive skeletons in museums. But they may have had all kinds of tumours (like birds* do), although bone tumours are the most likely kind (and probably the only one) that could be found in the fossil record.

There are a number of fossilised dinosaur bones that show signs of tumours, but most seem benign. Recently a team of researchers and cancer specialists analysed** a fibula (a long bone in a lower hind leg) of an herbivorous dinosaur – Centrosaurus apertus – that shows signs of abnormal growth. Their diagnosis was clear: an advanced cancer – osteosarcoma.

As the researchers say “The extensive invasion of the cancer throughout the bone suggests that it persisted for a substantial period of the animal’s life and might have invaded other body systems. A similarly advanced osteosarcoma in a human patient, left untreated, would certainly be fatal”.

However, it seems that this animal was not killed by cancer but by a costal flood.

* the only living dinosaurs (but that’s a different story – let me know if you would like to hear it)

** using microscopy and high-resolution X-ray CT scans.

Ilustration: Nobu Tamura (http://spinops.blogspot.com) – own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19459817

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