They find an ovarian tumor in the skeleton of a woman from Roman times

They find an ovarian tumor in the skeleton of a woman from Roman times

A team of researchers led by the anthropologist Núria Armentano from the Biological Anthropology Unit of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) found the oldest remains of a calcified ovarian teratoma, inside the pelvis of the skeleton of a woman from Roman times.

Thanks to the discovery, it has been possible to corroborate the presence of this type of encapsulated tumors since ancient times. From what is known, teratomas can take grotesque forms since they are composed of remains of tissues or organs such as hair, teeth, bones, and even eyes, or hands. In this particular case, the small round mass contained four teeth and a small bone fragment.

Due to this characteristic structure, teratomas are very difficult to locate during a common examination of ancient remains. "These tumors do not usually calcify, the soft tissues disappear, they do not reach us, and the small teeth of the content could easily have gone unnoticed in the excavation”, He pointed out Núria Armentano.

As usual, these tumors are benign (more in women than in men) and today, no literary reference to ovarian teratomas has yet been found in ancient remains such as those found in this study, which has been published in the International Journal of Paleopathology.

This particular teratoma was round in shape, with a rough surface the same color as the bones, and a size of 43 mm long and 44 mm in diameter. It was located in the right part of the pelvis of a woman between 30 and 40 years of age who lived about 1,600 years ago, and was found in the Roman cemetery of the archaeological site of La Fogonussa (Lleida) during excavations in 2010. After a macroscopic examination, the researchers found a small piece of bone and four teeth of abnormal morphology inside the tumor, two of which were attached to the inside wall of the tumor.

«The calcification and the preservation of the external walls of this tumor are exceptional, since this type of remains generally only preserve the internal structures, and the external ones end up disappearing due to their extreme fragility«, Declared Assumpció Malgosa, co-author of the study.

That is why in various archaeological contexts different diagnoses of pelvic and abdominal calcifications have been made, due to a greater extent to the complexity in determining their nature (It could be kidney stones, fibroids, teratomas, arterial debris, etc..) In addition, these calcifications are difficult to detect during excavations since they can easily be mistaken for stones.

In 60% of cases teratomas are asymptomatic, although on certain occasions they can cause torsion and functional problems in nearby organs. They are currently quite controlled and rarely become so large, or calcify, since they are detected and operate very early.

However, the researchers do not dismiss the theory that Roman women could have died from this tumor. Although it is also possible that he lived throughout his life with the teratoma attached to his ovary without causing any problems.


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