The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Cancer-related lesions in a contemporary skeletal collection with known cancer cases


Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee

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The William M. Bass Donated Skeletal Collection is the largest collection of contemporary human skeletons in the United States. Most individuals are of advanced age and have accumulated a number of pathologies. The goals of this study are to evaluate the morphology of bone neoplasms among contemporary individuals with both treated and untreated cancer and situate cancer prevalence in relation to other pathology categories within the collection. In addition, this study looks at conditions that might be associated with disease wasting and/or cancer treatment (e.g. anemia, osteopenia) among those with diagnosed cancer.

The Bass Collection consists of over 1000 individuals of known sex, age, ancestry, weight, and medical history. Primary bone cancers are rare in the collection so our study focuses on individuals with the seven most reported cancers in the collection that metastasize to bone: lung, breast, prostate, leukemia, colon, skin and pancreatic cancers (N=84; 41 females, 43 males). Of these, 36 individuals received some form of cancer treatment while four did not. Treatment status is unknown for 44 donors.

The skeletal analysis of known cancer cases consisted of visual observations of skeletal lesions. The authors were blind to the type of cancer and treatment choices during analysis. The results demonstrate that the cancer lesions are predominantly lytic but only a small proportion of individuals demonstrate skeletal lesions directly attributable to cancer. Periosteal lesions, whether cancer-related or not, were the most common condition associated with these cases.

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