Clonally transmissible cancer
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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. 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.
- Canine transmissible venereal tumor (CTVT) is sexually transmitted cancer in dogs. It was experimentally transplanted between dogs in 1876 by M. A. Novinsky (1841–1914). A single malignant clone of CTVT cells has colonized dogs worldwide, representing the oldest known malignant cell line in continuous propagation.
- Contagious reticulum cell sarcoma of the Syrian hamster can be transmitted from one Syrian hamster to another by means of the bite of the mosquito Aedes aegypti.
- Devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) is a transmissible parasitic cancer in the Tasmanian devil.
- Soft-shell clams, Mya arenaria, have been found to be vulnerable to a transmissible neoplasm of the hemolymphatic system — effectively, leukemia. Horizontally transmitted cancers have recently been discovered in three other species of marine bivalves: bay mussels (Mytilus trossulus), common cockles (Cerastoderma edule) and golden carpet shell clams (Polititapes aureus). The golden carpet shell clam cancer was found to have been transmitted from another species, the pullet carpet shell (Venerupis corrugata).
Instances of transmission of human cancer
Transmissible cancers are rare in humans. A malignant fibrous histiocytoma was contracted from a patient by a surgeon when he injured his hand during an operation. 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. 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.
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- 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. PMC . PMID 27338791. doi:10.1038/nature18599.
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