Enormous—and Fragile—Opportunities

It seems logical that large, long-living mammals would be more prone to cancer—they have more cells and more opportunities for dangerous mutations. But in a “quirk of nature” they actually die of cancer less frequently than their smaller cousins.

Research published in May found that whales and other large mammals have evolved to stave off cancer and suppress tumors. Another study found that elephants have extra copies of a tumor-squashing gene that was lacking in patients with a cancer-spurring hereditary disorder.

These cancer defenses, evolved over hundreds of millions of years, could ultimately help fight the disease in humans. But manmade threats to these mammals’ existence are eroding opportunities for research.


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