Raccoons hardly ever contract cancer, so, when 10 of the furry rodents exhibited signs of the same type of deadly tumors, researchers paid close attention to the trend. The raccoons are all undergoing routine necropsies.
The raccoons were first believed to have rabies due to their erratic behavior. The creatures were wandering around in broad daylight and approaching people. Once rabies was ruled out as the reason for the behavior or the raccoons, pathologists conducted more tests and discovered brain tumors, according to Fox News.
The brain tumors reportedly stretched from the frontal lobe to the olfactory tract. The cancerous tumors are believed to have been caused by a new infectious agent that is being referred to as the raccoon polyomavirus. Although polyomaviruses have been known to spawn cancer under laboratory conditions, scientists understand little about how such viruses cause cancer in people in a natural environment. Virus-associated cancers can reportedly take decades to develop, My Health Daily News notes.
The raccoon polyomavirus is not anticipated to cause any risk to human beings or even other animals. Studying how the virus appeared and spread in the 10 dead raccoons could help pathologists determine how cancer spreads in human. The typically short 3-year lifespan of raccoons is considered a bonus for scientific tracking purposes.
UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine Dean Michael Lairmore had this to say about the raccoon cancer study:
“Understanding how infectious agents may contribute to cancer in animals has provided fundamental new knowledge on the cause of cancer in people.”
Cancer is not normally considered the type of disease that a person can catch, but a recent study discovered that one in six cases is reportedly caused by an infection. The 10 cancer raccoons were found in northern California and southern Oregon.