Although cancer is sometimes referred to as a modern disease, that's actually not the case. In fact, an international team of researchers have just discovered that a fossil of a 69-million-year-old species of hadrosaur — a duck-billed dinosaur — has evidence of a large tumor on its face, reports The Washington Post.
The find is actually the first evidence ever uncovered of a facial tumor on a fossil. Interestingly, the growth has been classified as an ameloblastoma, which is a type of tumor that afflicts humans and other animals today.
The good news for this lucky dino is that ameloblastomas are benign, though the tumor may have been rather cumbersome.
"The discovery of an ameloblastoma in a duck-billed dinosaur documents that we have more in common with dinosaurs than previously realized," said Bruce Rothschild, lead researcher on the study.
This specimen, a Telmatosaurus transsylvanicus, was a smaller critter by dinosaur standards, and it occupied land in what is today Romania.
Hadrosaurs are sometimes referred to as "the cows of the Cretaceous" because of their voracious vegetarian appetites. In fact, this dinosaur's favorite food was conifers, which are known to be carcinogenic. So it's possible that its diet is what caused the tumor, though it's impossible to know for sure.
Researchers made the diagnosis thanks to advanced micro-CT scanners that allowed them to peek inside the creature's jawbone without cutting it open. Though the tumor was benign, it may have caused painful swelling that could have affected the animal's breathing. The ailment probably wasn't serious enough to cause the dinosaur's death, but the disfigurement might have made it a target for predators.
"The tumor in this dinosaur had not developed to its full extent at the moment it died, but it could have indirectly contributed to its early demise," explained Zoltán Csiki-Sava, who led the field expedition that uncovered the fossil.