By Rany Mostafa
CAIRO: World Cancer Day, which falls every year on Feb. 4, has a link to ancient Egypt as The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, currently in the New York Academy of Medicine, is believed to contain the earliest written record of cancer in mankind history.
In addition to providing the earliest reference to suturing of non-infected wounds with a needle and thread along with preparing splints for bone fracture, the text, dating from 1,600 B.C., also contains diagnosis of eight cases of breast tumors along with treatment by cauterizing tools, ancient Egyptian history professor Sherif el-Sabban told The Cairo Post Wednesday.
“The papyrus, written in hieratic script, contains 48 case histories on head, thorax and spine injuries with each presentation divided into title, examination, diagnosis, and treatment,” said Sabban, adding that the breast cancer is mentioned in the papyrus but it was considered non-curable.
For example, in case 39, dealing with “tumors with prominent heads and have produced cysts of pus in a man’s breast,” the author recommended cauterizing tumors using a “fire drill” said Sabban.
“American archaeologist Edwin Smith purchased the papyrus from Luxor in 1862; it was donated by his daughter to Brooklyn Museum in 1906 before it was presented to the New York Academy of Medicine where it has resided since 1920,” former head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Abdel Halim Noureddin told The Cairo Post Thursday.
The manuscript was first translated by former Director of the University of Chicago Oriental Institute American archaeologist James Henry Breasted (1865-1935,) said Noureddin, adding that this surgical text is an incomplete copy of an original document that perhaps dates back to the pyramid age (2700B.C.–2200 B.C.)
“Unlike other civilizations in the Middle East, the ancient Egyptian understanding of traumatic injuries was based on scientific practices gained through observation and examination, rather than depending on magic or supernatural powers,” he added.