Do whales get less cancer than they should considering they have a lot more cells and tissue? If a lot of cancer formation is random because of mutations then shouldn't whales receive a lot of cancerous growths? Is it partly because there's a lot more systems that can protect against pre-cancerous development and apoptosis degradation in the larger mammal than in a human being?


1 Answer 1


Short answer: Yes/Maybe

More detailed answer: If the rate of cancer was uniform across cells then you would expect large mammals to more frequently get cancer than small mammals, just like buying 10 lottery tickets is more likely to make you a winner than buying one ticket. However, this correlation between mass and cancer rates does not exist, and it's absence is called Peto's paradox.

Some useful quotes from that paper:

The incidence of cancer in humans stands at one in three [33%], whereas it is only 18% in beluga whales....

There are a number of different hypotheses,” says Carlo Maley, director of the Center for Evolution and Cancer at the University of California, San Francisco. “For example, rather than body mass influencing the number of tumour suppressors and oncogenes, maybe there are less reactive oxygen species in larger organisms due to their lower metabolic rate....

Some biologists question whether there is a paradox at all, saying that variations in cancer rates across species — which range between 20% and 46% — are more similar than different. “All species get cancer at about the same rate, typically in the latter part of life span,” says James DeGregori, a molecular biologist at the University of Colorado in Denver. “We simply don’t have the data yet to back up the notion that larger animals have come up with a way to avoid oncogenic mutations.”

  • $\begingroup$ Do eels get cancer, or other fish that have certain properties that use an electromagnetic field , like the eel? $\endgroup$
    – 201044
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 6:35

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