Maybe naked mole rats are simply very good at fighting off cancer?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

If a tumor is only a dozen cells, scientists would have difficulty finding it. Previously, researchers thought naked mole rats could not get cancer. Then they found one who got cancer but then healed. What if naked mole rats do get cancer at a normal rate, but their immune system is good about destroying all tumors before scientists can detect them? Interesting:

Dr. Delaney and her colleagues have studied lesions on naked mole rats for more than a decade, but it wasn’t until last fall when they came across their first cancerous case. Veterinarians from the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago sent the team a dark red and purple mass that was removed from the armpit of a 22-year-old male naked mole rat. Dr. Delaney’s team identified it as a malignant tumor and diagnosed adenocarcinoma, a type of cancer that develops from the body’s mucus-secreting glands, like the salivary glands or mammary glands.

Three months later they found no remnants of the cancer, making him the first known naked mole rat cancer survivor.

The second rodent, a male estimated to be about 20 years old, came from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. It had been euthanized by the zoo’s veterinarian before being sent to the team because it had developed a severe facial rash and was consistently losing weight. Following a microscopic analysis, the team found a slow-growing carcinoid tumor in its digestive tract and diagnosed stomach cancer.

Dr. Delaney said she was not sure why these two out of the hundreds of mole rats that she has observed developed cancer, but she suggested that it could potentially be a result of their old age or genetic problems they had, possibly as a result of inbreeding within captive zoo colonies. This is precisely what she and her team will now focus on investigating.

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