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Because hydras have immune systems, telomerase activity, and Piwi-piRNA like cancer cells I wonder if they can get cancer?

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Yes.

Research in cnidarians shows that even pre‐bilaterian animals can develop neoplasia (Domazet‐Lošo et al., 2014). Two different species of Hydra have presented with tumour‐bearing polyps. The cells in these tumours were invasive, which suggests that metastatic capacity has ancient roots. Additionally, the tumours had several orthologues to tumour‐related genes in mammals and displayed parallels to the hallmarks of cancer in vertebrates. The proposed mechanism for tumourigenesis in Hydra is the accumulation of stem cells if they are not appropriately removed by programmed cell death (Domazet‐Lošo et al., 2014). Scientists have also identified several cancer‐like lesions in corals (Aktipis et al., 2015).

--From humans to hydra: patterns of cancer across the tree of life

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes. May I suggest a mention that this is a significant finding in understanding the evolutionary origin of cancer (i.e., it supports the prediction that cancer originated with the earliest animals). $\endgroup$ – De Novo Feb 22 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ @DeNovo : I'm not really sure that the (rather obvious) observation that as soon as the very first DNA (etc.) existed there was (by the very definition of what it is) then a potential for copying errors really qualifies as a "prediction"? just my (not entirely) latent pedant gene kicking in, sorry about that :) $\endgroup$ – Pelinore Feb 22 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ Cancer is intrinsic to any multicellular organism with the same master genome in multiple cells. For an organism to have a coherent structure, there must be coordination and control between the cells. If there is genetically based control, those genes can mutate to be dysfunctional, and some versions of dysfunction will release control of the genes causing cellular replication, which will form a neoplasm if not suppressed by other cells of the organism (which may be dysfunctional). $\endgroup$ – mgkrebbs Feb 22 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Pelinore the prediction is that cancer originated with the first animals, not the first DNA (and not single celled organisms, see: the bit where I address that in this answer). The current species who's lineage diverged from other animals at the earliest point (but remain animals) are basal metazoans, like the hydra. Cancer, as we understand it, is not observed, nor is it predicted to exist in single celled organisms. I can't seem to find my reference to the computational model that makes this prediction. If i can find it, i'll add it later. $\endgroup$ – De Novo Feb 23 at 22:45
  • $\begingroup$ @DeNovo fair enough, so it needs multi cell organisms before you can call any copy errors cancer, not really anything to do to do with what I said though, I still say "prediction" isn't really the right word. $\endgroup$ – Pelinore Feb 23 at 22:51

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