ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) – Cancer is one of humanity’s oldest enemies. Medical accounts go back to the ancient Greeks, who thought the growths looked like crabs, and named the disease after their word for the crustacean.

Now researchers have evidence that cancer has afflicted humans for as long as our species has been around, and that certain cancer-causing genetic mutations may have evolved along with human beings.

For that reason, says lead author Thomas Bosch, an evolutionary biologist at Kiel University, doctors may never find a cure for cancer, reports Medical Daily.

The researchers base their pessimistic conclusion on the discovery of hydra stem cells, tiny polyps that formed cancer-like tumors in humans millions of years ago.

Cancer is triggered when a genetic mutation turns off the signals that tell cells to stop dividing. The new cancer cells grow uncontrollably and crowd out healthy cells.

The team bred some of the ancient cancer-causing stem cells for five years and created several clones of two different hydra species.

When they transplanted the lab-grown tumors into healthy polyps, the hydra cells moved through the body, outsmarting the healthy cells and ultimately created another tumor.

“[Cancer cells] have deep evolutionary roots,” the researchers wrote. “Any crucial cell in your body can at any point make a mistake,”

Bosch told NPR, “You carry a time bomb in your body when you’re born. It can explode early in life, or middle age or later. That doesn’t mean that, with a patient who develops cancer, there’s nothing you can do.”

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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