Cancer is ubiquitous in wildlife, affecting animals from bivalves to pachyderms and cetaceans. Reports of increasing frequency demonstrate that neoplasia is associated with substantial mortality in wildlife species. Anthropogenic activities and global weather changes are shaping new geographical limitations for many species, and alterations in living niches are associated with visible examples of genetic bottlenecks, toxin exposures, oncogenic pathogens, stress and immunosuppression, which can all contribute to cancers in wild species. Nations that devote resources to monitoring the health of wildlife often do so for human-centric reasons, including for the prediction of the potential for zoonotic disease, shared contaminants, chemicals and medications, and for observing the effect of exposure from crowding and loss of habitat. Given the increasing human footprint on land and in the sea, wildlife conservation should also become a more important motivating factor. Greater attention to the patterns of the emergence of wildlife cancer is imperative because growing numbers of species are existing at the interface between humans and the environment, making wildlife sentinels for both animal and human health. Therefore, monitoring wildlife cancers could offer interesting and novel insights into potentially unique non-age-related mechanisms of carcinogenesis across species.
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The authors are grateful to B. Stacy (University of Florida), K. Colegrove (University of Illinois) and S. L. Quackenbush (University of Colorado) for responding to their requests for additional information and to J. Crum (West Virginia Division of Natural Resources) for his contribution of cancer cases in white-tailed deer. The authors are also deeply grateful to their colleagues at the University of California Davis and Michigan State University, East Lansing, for comments on the manuscript and their support.
Nature Reviews Cancer thanks A. Boddy, J. Landolfi and D. McAloose for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
- Canine distemper virus
An enveloped single-stranded negative RNA virus of the family Paramyxoviridae related to the viruses that cause measles in humans. It is also referred to as carnivore distemper virus, as it causes systemic disease in a wide variety of animal families, including domestic and wild dogs, coyotes, foxes, pandas, wolves, ferrets, skunks, raccoons, large cats and pinnipeds.
A condition characterized by the presence of proliferative benign neoplasms containing superficial epidermal and subjacent dermal tissue.
The caudal opening in reptiles, amphibians and birds used for digestive, reproductive and urinary tract excretions.
RNA viruses that utilize reverse transcriptase to generate a complementary DNA strand from the RNA template, which is then integrated into the genome of the infected cell.
- Nasal conchae
Also called nasal turbinates. Convoluted, curled thin bones covered by respiratory epithelium that protrude into the breathing passage of animals.
Animals dependent on exogenous heat to maintain body temperature.
Relating to farmland, agriculture or the cultivation of land for crops.
Any substance (synthetic or natural) that is not naturally present in the body of an organism.
- Endocrine disrupting compounds
(EDCs). A broad category of mostly man-made substances that are present in pesticides, plastics, personal care products, metals and pharmaceuticals, among many other items, which result in altered hormonal activity via agonistic and antagonistic receptor binding.
When a substance becomes concentrated within the body of a living thing. If the source of the substance is from water, this is specifically referred to as bioconcentration.
The increasing concentration of a substance within the tissues of an organism acquired through predatory acquisition (a food chain).
- Benthic zone
The lowest ecological regions of a body of water, such as the sediment surface.
- Evolutionary mismatch
A concept in evolutionary biology referring to the presence of once beneficial traits in a population that, owing to rapid environmental change, are no longer beneficial but harmful.
The absence of one or both testes from the scrotum, usually resulting from a failure to descend during development.
A type of germ cell tumour of the testicle.
- Sertoli cell tumours
A sex cord-gonadal stromal tumour composed of Sertoli cells, which line the seminiferous tubules and help in the development of sperm. These are typically benign and often hormonally active.
- Estrous cycle
The recurring cyclic variation in reproductive hormones (for example, oestrogen and progesterone) in the mammalian female that controls behaviour, reproductive organ morphology, ovulation and conception.
When present in the reproductive tract (vagina, cervix, uterus, oviduct or ovary), these are hormonally responsive benign smooth muscle tumours. In humans, these are also known as fibroids.
- Cystic endometrial hyperplasia
A condition of excessive proliferation of the glandular epithelium of the uterus, typically associated with excessive progesterone and/or oestrogen stimulation.
An animal that has never given birth.
An animal that has given birth multiple times.
A non-receptive phase of the estrous cycle dominated by progesterone production.
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Pesavento, P.A., Agnew, D., Keel, M.K. et al. Cancer in wildlife: patterns of emergence. Nat Rev Cancer 18, 646–661 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41568-018-0045-0
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