By Kim Polacek
You may have seen the headlines in your news feed: a contagious cancer found in shellfish is spreading throughout the Atlantic Ocean. Researchers with the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons recently reported cases of contagious cancer in different mussel species along the coasts of Argentina, Chile, France and the Netherlands. The disease was so contagious that 13% of the mussel population was infected.
“Transmissible cancers are very rare in nature, only occurring in species which are highly inbred, like certain dog breeds, or have limited immune systems, as in the case of shellfish,” says Travis Gerke, ScD, assistant member of the Cancer Epidemiology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center.
Shellfish are more prone to transmissible cancer because they live in water where cells can easily travel. And since they eat by pumping and filtering water and have limited immune systems, shellfish are not able to block transmission of the disease.
But there is no need to skip your Feast of Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve or boycott seafood restaurants, says Gerke. “Cross-species cancer transmission to humans is extremely unlikely, if not wholly implausible,” he said.