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Sea lions, beluga whales and Tasmanian Devils suffering from rare cancers likely caused by industrial pollutants, say researchers

Toxic chemicals

(NaturalNews) Although advancements in science are made nearly every day, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding the exact mechanisms of cancer. Now, certain animals that are highly susceptible to cancer are being looked at to help learn more about this baffling and devastating illness.

Take, for example, California's sea lions. Sea lions have the unfortunate distinction of having the highest known rate of cancer among wildlife species, with urogenital cancers being particularly prevalent. In fact, scientists first noted a remarkable 18 percent rate of aggressive genital and urinary cancers in the animals two decades ago, and the rates show no sign of abating.

Studying these marine mammals could help scientists uncover the complex interactions that take place between the environment, viruses and genes to figure out why cancer attacks animals and people.

Researchers have already found specific genes that seem to make the animals more susceptible to the disease, and now they are hoping that further research will help them find ways to prevent similar problems in humans.

While animals in general seem to show relatively low cancer rates compared to humans, a few species stand out for being extremely susceptible, and the sea lion iis just one of them.

The Tasmanian devil is now approaching extinction thanks to an epidemic of facial cancer that is spread by the transfer of living cancer cells via biting, while sea turtles off of Florida and Hawaii are also carrying malignant growths.

Studies into poor beluga whale population growth led Canadian researchers to look into the polluted waters in the St. Lawrence estuary. The belugas are experiencing tumors in various parts of heir bodies, including their liver, lungs, intestines, stomachs and bladders. The tightening of some restrictions on toxic chemicals has caused the number of tumors to decline, which means that these and other chemicals could likely be to blame for the epidemic. Such pollution is also believed to be behind the weakening of the immune systems of the sea lions, thereby making them more susceptible to cancer.

DDT, PCBs to blame

The researchers posit that contaminants such as DDTs and PCBs could be suppressing their response and allowing the cancer precursor herpesvirus to colonize. They say that animals with healthy immune systems can fight off disease, but those with poorly performing immune systems are much more vulnerable.
Another study found that sea lions with carcinomas showed much higher DDT and PCB concentrations than those without carcinoma.

These same PCBs have been found to cause cancer in humans as well, and a European study found that men with the highest levels of PCBs were much more likely to end up developing cancer. Even though the chemical has been banned for many years in some places, it can persist for a long time. It tends to accumulate in oceans, and fatty seafood like swordfish, farmed salmon and tuna is believed to be the cause of PCB exposure in humans. The chemical also causes epigenetic changes that can be passed down to offspring. In fact, PCBs and DDT have been shown to cause negative effects as many as six generations down the line.

Water pollution is out of control

These animals cannot really control the water in which they live, but as humans, we have choices about the water that we drink. While drinking water is indeed contaminated in many places throughout the world, highly effective water filters like the Big Berkey can give you the peace of mind that chemicals and other toxins have been removed from the water you drink.

As scientists learn more about the effects of water pollution on sea life, it is hoped that action can be taken to give these animals clean water as well.

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