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Research Letter
February 7, 2019

Triassic Cancer—Osteosarcoma in a 240-Million-Year-Old Stem-Turtle

Author Affiliations
  • 1Museum für Naturkunde, Leibniz-Institut für Evolutions- und Biodiversitätsforschung, Berlin, Germany
  • 2Department of Radiology, Charité—Universitätsmedizin Berlin, corporate member of Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin Institute of Health, Berlin, Germany
  • 3Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde, Stuttgart, Germany
  • 4Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
JAMA Oncol. Published online February 7, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2018.6766

Paleopathology, the study of ancient disease, is a vital way by which we understand the evolution of pathogens, immune systems, healing physiology, and ultimately the environment. Cancer research has focused on its prevalence in various organisms and has found that although some animals have a high propensity for cancer,1 others seem to be resistant.2 The prevalence of cancer in the tree of life is certainly interesting, but its antiquity should be regarded with equal interest considering the increase in human cancer, which has been related to environmental and genetic changes, and the extreme rarity of cancer in the fossil record.3 This study documents bone cancer in a 240-million-year-old reptilian amniote from the Triassic period, which adds an important data point to the history of cancer in tetrapod evolution. Herein, we present a case study of an osteosarcoma, a highly malignant bone tumor, on the femur of the shell-less stem-turtle Pappochelys rosinae4 (Figure 1) from the middle Triassic period of present-day Germany. The appearance of the tumor on this specimen conforms with present-day periosteal osteosarcoma in humans.

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