While we’ve made a lot of progress in better understanding cancer, a lot of it is still a bit of a mystery. For example, other animals don’t get the same types of cancer that humans get. We don’t really understand why this is. More specifically, fish have never been found to have skin cancer in the wild. That is, until a group of marine biologists recently found melanoma-laden coral trout in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) in Australia.
Michael Sweet, John Bythell, and colleagues at Newcastle University in the UK and the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Australia published these findings on in late 2012, in the journal PLoS ONE. The increased UV radiation that the GBRMP receives due to a large hole in the ozone layer above is a likely cancer-causing suspect. As the researchers explain:
”Relatively high prevalence rates of [melanomas] (15%) were recorded at two offshore sites in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP). In the absence of microbial pathogens and given the strong similarities to the UV-induced melanomas [in laboratory fish models], we conclude that the likely cause was environmental exposure to UV radiation.”
As skin cancer rates are also thought to be increasing in humans, you may want to think twice before leaving the house on a sunny day without applying sunblock!
For further reading:
- The study: Michael Sweet et al.’s article “Evidence of Melanoma in Wild Marine Fish Populations” in PLoS ONE
- Additional commentary on the study: Krystnell A. Storr’s article “Yes, Fish Get Skin Cancer, Too” in Science