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Outside the Lab Oncology, Screening and monitoring

An Oncogenic Species

Cancer is not only a devastating diagnosis for humans; it’s also bad news for animals. But although we often hear of pets and domestic animals (common subjects of comparative pathology studies) encountering the disease, it rarely comes to our attention in more exotic species. Nevertheless, wild animals do get cancer – and it may, in fact, be the fault of humankind.

Researchers from the Arizona State University School of Life Sciences have pointed out in a recent paper (1) that humans as a species are changing the environment around them – by polluting, by dispersing chemicals, by releasing radiation, and even by changing the eating, sleeping and breeding habits of animals in the wild. “Human activities are known to strongly influence cancer rate in humans,” said lead author Mathieu Girardeau (2). “So, this human impact on wild environments might strongly influence the prevalence of cancer in wild populations.” In the paper, humans are defined as an “oncogenic species” – one that moderates its environment to cause cancer.

The scientists are now working to develop biomarkers they can use to measure cancer rates in wild animal populations. It’s their hope that if humans are, in fact, increasing the incidence of the disease in other species, we can still change our habits and reverse the trend – for our benefit as well as theirs.

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  1. M Girardeau et al., “Human activities might influence oncogenic processes in wild animal populations”, Nat Ecol Evol, [Epub ahead of print] (2018).
  2. Arizona State University, “Are humans causing cancer in wild animals?” (2018). Available at: bit.ly/2GDyi5A. Accessed May 22, 2018.
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