Why don't whales develop cancer, and why should we care?

17 May 2019

At its core, cancer starts when cells mutate abnormally and start growing and dividing uncontrollably, in a way that disrupts the normal functioning of their biological environment.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer is the second leading cause of death at a global level, affecting millions of people of all ages worldwide.

Some researchers have argued that the diseases that fall under the cancer umbrella have become more widespread in the modern world, largely due to factors such as pollution and other environmental changes caused by human action. Still, many studies show that people have experienced cancer for thousands of years.

The earliest case of cancer that researchers have so far been able to document occurred in a hominin (early human ancestor) whose remains date back 1.7 million years. Investigators located these remains in a South African cave, and they yielded evidence of osteosarcoma, an aggressive type of bone cancer, at the dawn of the human race.

Yet humans and their ancestors are not the only animals to have been affected by cancer through history. Anecdotally, cancer is the leading cause of death in cats and dogs, and some birds, reptiles, and fish — in captivity and in the wild — can experience cancer, too.

Furthermore, according to recent discoveries, even dinosaurs sometimes developed cance