Cancer in wildlife: patterns of emergence

Nat Rev Cancer. 2018 Oct;18(10):646-661. doi: 10.1038/s41568-018-0045-0.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild*
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging / epidemiology
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging / pathology
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging / veterinary*
  • Ecosystem
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / veterinary*