Another contagious Tasmanian devil cancer found

Researchers have discovered a new form of contagious cancer that is transmitted among Tasmanian devils, shaking long-held beliefs that transmittable cancers are a rarity. This is the second type of contagious cancer discovered that affects Tasmanian devils, and it represents itself with physical symptoms and lesions indistinguishable from the other cancer type's lesions. Contagious cancers have also been found among soft-shelled clams and dogs.

The first type of contagious cancer among Tasmanian devils was discovered by researchers back in 1996 — they became aware of the disease after noticing rather terrible tumors on the faces and mouths of affected animals. These tumors, the researchers came to learn, were contagious, forming on an animal after it was bitten by an already-infected Tasmanian devil.

More recently, researchers from the University of Cambridge and University of Tasmania discovered a second form of contagious cancer said to be "genetically distinct" from the first. Likewise, this new type of cancer produces the same facial tumors, making it impossible to distinguish visually. At this point, 8 devils have been found with the disease.

Said one of the study's senior authors Dr. Elizabeth Murchison:

Previously, we thought that Tasmanian devils were extremely unlucky to have fallen victim to a single runaway cancer that emerged from one individual devil and spread through the devil population by biting. However, now that we have discovered that this has happened a second time, it makes us wonder if Tasmanian devils might be particularly vulnerable to developing this type of disease, or that transmissible cancers may not be as rare in nature as we previously thought.

SOURCE: Phys.Org