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Cancer Endangers Some Wildlife Species

Effective conservation can help reduce threat, expert says

THURSDAY, July 2 (HealthDay News) -- Cancer is a major threat to certain species of wildlife, which need to be protected through health monitoring, researchers say.

"Cancer is one of the leading health concerns for humans, accounting for more than 10 percent of human deaths. But we now understand that cancer can kill wild animals at similar rates," lead author Denise McAloose, chief pathologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society's Global Health Program, said in a news release from the society.

More resources are needed for monitoring the health of wildlife, which can help reveal the causes of cancer in animal populations.

"Examining the impact of cancer in wildlife, in particular those instances when human activities are identified as the cause, can contribute to more effective conservation and fits within the One World-One Health approach of reducing threats to both human and animal health," William Karesh, vice president and director of the WCS's Global Health Program, said in the news release.

The study, published in the July issue of Nature Reviews Cancer, noted that cancer threatens the survival of some species, including the Tasmanian devil. The world's largest marsupial carnivore is at risk of extinction due to a contagious cancer called Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease. In an effort to save the species, cancer-free Tasmanian devils are being relocated to geographically isolated areas or zoos.

Pollution can be a major cause of cancer, such as in beluga whales in the St. Lawrence River system in North America. The whales have a high rate of intestinal cancer, which is their second-leading cause of death. It's believed that this cancer problem is due to high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the waters where the whales live, the study said. PAHs are a known human carcinogen.

In addition, virus-induced cancers can affect reproduction in some wildlife species (such as genital tumors in California sea lions) or hamper their feeding or eyesight, the news release noted.

More information

The American Veterinary Medical Association discusses cancer in pets.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Wildlife Conservation Society, news release, June 24, 2009

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