Did Lincoln Have Cancer?

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Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, when he was just 56. But one California doctor now theorizes that Honest Abe—who before his death had lost a lot of weight and complained of intense headaches and cold extremities—might not have lived much longer, anyway.

Stanford Cardiologist John Sotos said yesterday at a Johns Hopkins talk that Lincoln probably had a rare genetic syndrome, called MEN 2B. MEN 2B causes small, benign tumors to grow on victims' lips and inside their intestines.

Sotos analyzed 130 photographs and plaster face masks of the stoic 16th president stored in the National Portrait Gallery. He claimed that these tell-tale bumps were clearly visible on his lips, and surmised that tumors in Lincoln's gut could have caused his notorious problems with constipation.

Even more evidence of a genetic disease: Two of Lincoln's sons had the same lip tumors, and died at young ages, Sotos said.

The only glitch in the theory is that people with MEN 2B usually develop cancer in their 20s and die in their 30s, a full two decades sooner than Lincoln.

A DNA analysis of Lincoln's blood or brain tissue is the only surefire way to test Sotos' hypothesis. (Anybody know who currently holds these samples? Yuck.) No such tests have been planned yet.

(Hat tip: Greg Laden; Image by telethon on Flickr)

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