Do wild an­i­mals get can­cer?

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Our World - SB

AWild an­i­mals do in­deed get can­cer – though be­cause can­cer tends to be a dis­ease of older age, and be­cause life in the wild is of­ten bru­tal and short, few an­i­mals will man­age to live long enough for can­cer to take hold.

There are, though, some no­table ex­cep­tions. An in­fec­tious and lethal can­cer known as devil fa­cial tu­mour dis­ease, which is spread by bit­ing and was first iden­ti­fied in 1996, has dev­as­tated Tas­ma­nian devil pop­u­la­tions over the past two decades, caus­ing their num­bers to plum­met by up to 80 per cent. Sea tur­tles suf­fer from a can­cer called fi­bropa­pil­loma, which forms ob­vi­ous tu­mours on the flip­pers and around the mouth and eyes. The in­ci­dence of fi­bropa­pil­loma has in­creased ten-fold over the past decade, and there are sus­pi­cions that pol­lu­tion is to blame.

But it’s only a sus­pi­cion. In fact, the roles of en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems in the in­ci­dence of can­cers among wildlife have barely been stud­ied at all sci­en­tif­i­cally.

Tas­ma­nian devil fa­cial tu­mour dis­ease is a trans­mis­si­ble can­cer af­flict­ing this mar­su­pial car­ni­vore.

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