Transmissible Cancer Evolution: The Under-Estimated Role of Environmental Factors in the “Perfect Storm” Theory

Authors: Sophie Tissot, Anne-Lise Gérard, Justine Boutry, Antoine M. Dujon, Tracey Russel, Hannah Siddle, Aurélie Tasiemski, Jordan Meliani, Rodrigo Hamede, Benjamin Roche, Beata Ujvari and Frédéric Thomas

Source: Pathogens (Feb 2022)


Although the true prevalence of transmissible cancers is not known, these atypical malignancies are likely rare in the wild. The reasons behind this rarity are only partially understood, but the “Perfect Storm hypothesis” suggests that transmissible cancers are infrequent because a precise confluence of tumor and host traits is required for their emergence.

This explanation is plausible as transmissible cancers, like all emerging pathogens, will need specific biotic and abiotic conditions to be able to not only emerge, but to spread to detectable levels. Because those conditions would be rarely met, transmissible cancers would rarely spread, and thus most of the time disappear, even though they would regularly appear. Thus, further research is needed to identify the most important factors that can facilitate or block the emergence of transmissible cancers and influence their evolution.

Such investigations are particularly relevant given that human activities are increasingly encroaching into wild areas, altering ecosystems and their processes, which can influence the conditions needed for the emergence and spread of transmissible cell lines.