Dinosaurs got cancer too, say scientists

Pablo Tucker
August 8, 2020

The pair searched the substantial selection of bones held by the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Alberta, Canada. The malformation was a manifestation of osteosarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer, making this Centrosaurus, which lived 76 million years ago, the first known example of a dinosaur afflicted by malignant cancer.

The report was published August 3 in the journal The Lancet Oncology.

Back in 1989, paleontologists in Alberta, Canada, unearthed a 76-million-year-old fibula, or lower leg bone, belonging to Centrosaurus apertus, a four-legged dinosaur from the Cretaceous. Originally, this fossilized bone's malformed end was believed to be fractured bone that was healing.

Noting the unusual properties of the bone on a trip to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in 2017, Dr David Evans, of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Professor Mark Crowther and Snezana Popovic, an osteopathologist, both of McMaster University, chose to investigate.


With an global team of specialists, they diagnosed the first documented case of cancer in any dinosaur in history.

"Diagnosis of aggressive most cancers like this in dinosaurs has been elusive and requires professional medical skills and numerous amounts of assessment to adequately discover", stated Dr. Mark Crowther, a professor of pathology and molecular medication at McMaster University in a push statement.

The bone was examined, casts were made, and high-resolution computed tomography (CT) scans were performed. Altogether, these tests allowed the scientists to reconstruct a cross-section of the entire bone, inside and out, to determine disease progression.

"The discovery of this cancer makes dinosaurs more real", says Crowther.


The bone was discovered in a mass grave of centrosaurus bones, indicating that it died with its herd during a flood.

Comparison between thin sections of the shin-cancerous (left) and the shin normal dinosaur's horned Centrosaurus apertus. However, detailed analysis with the use of modern medical tech helped diagnose that it was actually a bone inflicted with osteosarcoma. Credit: Courtesy of Royal Ontario Museum.

To affirm that the dinosaur experienced most cancers, a staff of scientists from an array of fields - which includes pathology, radiology, orthopaedic operation, and paleopathology - x-rayed the bone and analyzed its mobile construction under a microscope. From the lack of bite marks on the diseased dino, and from his final resting place alongside his family and friends, it's safe to assume that the herd lifestyle allowed it to survive despite his condition.

It's an overgrowth of disorganized bone that spreads rapidly both through the bone and to other organs, including most commonly, the lung. "Presumably dinosaurs were also at risk because of the fact that they grew at enormous rates", Crowther added. And other organisms dwelling around the dinosaur period have revealed symptoms of the sickness, much too.


According to one of the authors of the study, David Evans, scientists have often theorised that dinosaurs may have had cancer, but this is the first time that there is actual confirmation of the hypothesis.

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