Clonally transmissible cancer

A transmissible cancer is a cancer cell or cluster of cancer cells that can be transmitted from animal to animal. They are quite rare in humans. These cancers are distinct from cancers caused by infectious agents such as oncoviruses and cancer bacteria, which are more common.

Examples in animals

Cancer is not normally a contagious disease, but there are known exceptions in dogs, Tasmanian devils, Syrian hamsters, and some marine bivalves including soft-shell clams. These cancers have a relatively stable genome as they are transmitted.[1] Because of their transmission, it was initially thought that these diseases were caused by the transfer of oncoviruses, in the manner of cervical cancer caused by HPV.

It has been suggested that animals that have undergone population bottlenecks are at greater risks of contracting transmissible cancers.[9]

Instances of transmission of human cancer

Transmissible cancers are rare in humans.[10] A malignant fibrous histiocytoma was contracted from a patient by a surgeon when he injured his hand during an operation.[11] More recently, Barozzi and colleagues found that a significant fraction of Kaposi's sarcoma occurring after transplantation may be due to tumorous outgrowth of donor cells.[12] Although Kaposi's sarcoma is caused by a virus (Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus), in these cases, it appears likely that transmission of virus-infected tumor cells—rather than the free virus—caused tumors in the transplant recipients.

Animals to humans

Only one instance of cross-species cancer transmission to humans is known, that of a 41-year-old man in Colombia with a compromised immune system due to HIV. The man's tumor cells were shown to have originated from the dwarf tapeworm, Hymenolepis nana, making this a case of parasite-to-host cancer transmission.[13]

See also


  1. Weiss, Robin A.; Fassati, Ariberto; Murgia, Claudio (21 December 2006). "A sexually transmitted parasitic cancer". Retrovirology. 3 (Supplement 1): S92. doi:10.1186/1742-4690-3-S1-S92.
  2. Pearse, Anne-Maree; Swift, K. (2 February 2006). "Allograft theory: Transmission of devil facial-tumour disease". Nature. 439 (7076): 549. doi:10.1038/439549a. PMID 16452970.
  3. Murgia, Claudio; Pritchard, Jonathan K.; Kim, Su Yeon; Fassati, Ariberto; Weiss, Robin A. (11 August 2006). "Clonal origin and evolution of a transmissible cancer". Cell. 126 (3): 477–487. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2006.05.051. PMC 2593932Freely accessible. PMID 16901782.
  4. Cooper, Herbert L.; MacKay, Carol M.; Banfield, William G. (1964-10-01). "Chromosome Studies of a Contagious Reticulum Cell Sarcoma of the Syrian Hamster". Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 33 (4): 691–706. doi:10.1093/jnci/33.4.691. PMID 14220251.
  5. Banfield, William G.; Woke, Paul A.; MacKay, Carol M.; Cooper, Herbert L. (28 May 1965). "Mosquito Transmission of a Reticulum Cell Sarcoma of Hamsters". Science. 148 (3674): 1239–1240. doi:10.1126/science.148.3674.1239. PMID 14280009.
  6. Yong, Ed (April 9, 2015). "Selfish shellfish cells cause contagious clam cancer". National Geographic. Retrieved April 10, 2015.
  7. Michael J. Metzger, Carol Reinisch, James Sherry, Stephen P. Goff (2015). "Horizontal transmission of clonal cancer cells causes leukemia in soft-shell clams". Cell. 161: 255–63. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2015.02.042.
  8. Michael J. Metzger, Antonio Villalba, María J. Carballal, David Iglesias, James Sherry, Carol Reinisch, Annette F. Muttray, Susan A. Baldwin, Stephen P. Goff (2016). "Widespread transmission of independent cancer lineages within multiple bivalve species". Nature. 534: 705–9. doi:10.1038/nature18599.
  9. Belov, Katherine (February 2011). "The role of the Major Histocompatibility Complex in the spread of contagious cancers". Mammalian Genome. 22 (1-2): 83–90. doi:10.1007/s00335-010-9294-2. PMID 20963591.
  10. Welsh, James S. (2011). "Contagious cancer". The Oncologist. 16 (1): 1–4. doi:10.1634/theoncologist.2010-0301. PMC 3228048Freely accessible. PMID 21212437.
  11. Gärtner, Hermine-Valeria; Seidl, Christian; Luckenbach, Christine; Schumm, Georg; Seifried, Erhard; Ritter, Horst; Bültmann, Burkhard (1996). "Genetic analysis of a sarcoma accidentally transplanted from a patient to a surgeon.". New England Journal of Medicine. 335 (20): 1494–1497. doi:10.1056/NEJM199611143352004. PMID 8890100. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  12. Barozzi, Patrizia; Luppi, Mario; Facchetti, Fabio; Mecucci, Cristina; Alù, Milena; Sarid, Ronit; Rasini, Valeria; Ravazzini, Luisa; Rossi, Elisa; Festa, Silvana; Crescenzi, Barbara; Wolf, Dana G.; Schulz, Thomas F.; Torelli, Giuseppe (2003). "Post-transplant Kaposi sarcoma originates from the seeding of donor-derived progenitors". Nature Medicine. 9 (5): 554–561. doi:10.1038/nm862. PMID 12692543.
  13. Bichell, Rae Ellen (November 4, 2015). "A Man In Colombia Got Cancer And It Came From A Tapeworm". goats and soda. NPR.
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