Cancer can be catching

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Leukemia is spreading among soft-shell clams through seawater, marking only the third instance that scientists have ever found of cancer cells migrating between organisms. Columbia biochemists led by Stephen Goff made the discovery by examining the DNA of diseased clams collected at a handful of locations along the east coast of North America, where leukemia has been thinning out clam populations since the 1970s. They observed that the clams’ cancer cells, unlike most cancer cells, lacked the genetic signature of their hosts, while bearing a strong resemblance to each other, across specimens from New York, Maine, and Prince Edward Island. That indicated that the cancer cells had originated long ago from a single clam.

The only forms of cancer previously known to be directly transmissible were a facial tumor in Tasmanian devils and a venereal cancer in dogs. Goff says that studying these diseases in more detail could reveal clues about how human cancers metastasize. “What we’re seeing in the clams,” he says, “can be thought of as an extreme version of how ordinary cancers spread from one organ in the body to another.”

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This is only the second time I've ever commented on an article in this magazine. The first time was on the neighboring article, "How Your Birth Month Influences Your Health." I'm also semi-astounded by this article, which indicates that leukemia can be passed from one living being to another through seawater. The article goes on to say that only two other relatively minor forms of cancer have been found to be transferable. Although the beings involved in the leukemia transfer are soft-shelled claims, the leukemia was passed through sea water from one clam to another, and humans also swim in sea water, to say nothing of bathing in fresh water, etc. I don't think it's too outrageous to suggest after reading this article that some thought be given to recommending that precautions be taken when bathing or swimming with leukemia patients.

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