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Bardin reports: "If you're still skeptical that a tan can be dangerous, consider this: Scientists have found that wild fish are getting skin cancer from ultraviolet radiation."

Researchers determined that the dark patches visible on this coral trout are cancerous. (photo: Michelle Heupel/Australian Institute of Marine Science)
Researchers determined that the dark patches visible on this coral trout are cancerous. (photo: Michelle Heupel/Australian Institute of Marine Science)

Fish Getting Skin Cancer From UV Radiation, Scientists Say

By Jon Bardin, Los Angeles Times

03 August 12


f you're still skeptical that a tan can be dangerous, consider this: Scientists have found that wild fish are getting skin cancer from ultraviolet radiation.

Approximately 15% of coral trout in  Australia's  Great Barrier Reef had cancerous lesions on their scales. In that regard, they resemble Australians who live on land - 2 in 3 people who live down under will be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70, the highest rate in the world. It's probably no coincidence that Australia is under the Earth's biggest hole in the ozone layer.

Researchers hadn't set out to look for signs of cancer in fish.

Scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science were near the Great Barrier Reef conducting a survey of shark prey, predominantly coral trout. They kept seeing strange dark patches on the normally bright orange fish, and for help they turned to another research team from the University of Newcastle in England that was studying coral disease in the area.

The research team's first guess was that the patches were caused by an infection, said Michael Sweet, a coral disease expert. "We can check for microbial pathogens quite easily. So we designed an experiment, screened for them, and couldn't find anything," Sweet said. "So we had to look deeper."

Sweet and his colleagues cut the fish tissue into slices and put them under a microscope. "We basically stumbled onto these tumor formations," he said. Then they compared them with samples from fish that had been given melanoma - the most dangerous type of skin cancer - as part of a laboratory experiment. They looked nearly identical.

The findings were published online Wednesday by the journal PLoS One.

Even though this is the first published account of skin cancer in wild fish, it is unlikely the phenomenon is new, said Michelle Heupel, a researcher at the Australian Institute of Marine Science who wrote the study with Sweet and others.

"When I talk to people who have been fishing for a long time, they tell me they've seen this since back in the 1980s," she said.

The researchers were unable to determine why the incidence of melanoma was so high in these fish. Sweet said it was probably not a coincidence that the cancer occurred in the Great Barrier Reef, which sits under the outer reaches of the ozone hole centered over Antarctica. That greatly increases the area's exposure to harmful ultraviolet radiation, which can lead to cancer-causing mutations in DNA.

Team members also suspect that the Great Barrier Reef's location at the edge of the coral trout's range increases its vulnerability to cancer.

"They are at the extreme of their habitat," Sweet said. "They are struggling to cope, which means they will be more susceptible to more diseases."

Aside from their skin lesions, the fish that were captured by researchers did not show any signs of illness. But Nancy Knowlton, a marine ecologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, said it remained possible that a significant number of fish were becoming sick from the cancer.

"Once the melanoma gets invasive, the fish probably get compromised," making them more vulnerable to sharks, said Knowlton, who was not involved in the study. "Somebody with advanced melanoma is being taken care of by doctors and loved ones, but fish will be eliminated fairly quickly." your social media marketing partner


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+5 # dkonstruction 2012-08-03 13:53
This opens up a whole new market for n't the free market grand!
+20 # Small Family Farmer 2012-08-03 17:55
Nothing to see here folks, skin cancer in fish is normal, all is well, trust us we're the experts, you're getting drowsy, no need change anything, all is well, you're getting sleepy, let us take care of everything, all is well, fish getting skin cancer is completely normal, go back to sleep.
+6 # Small Family Farmer 2012-08-03 18:19
Go back to sleep, nothing to see here, fish have always been getting skin cancer, everything is fine, you're getting drowsy, go to sleep, all is well, we're the experts, we know what we're doing, we are looking out for your best interests, you're getting drowsy, skin cancer in fish is normal, go back to sleep.
-12 # woohooman 2012-08-03 21:57
Nice try RSN - Coral Trout is native to the western Pacific including America Samoa, Philippines etc. so MORE likely that RADIATION from Fukushima caused this cancer.

Coral Trout don't hang around the surface of the water - THIS DIS-INFO IS GLOBAL WARMING FEAR MONGERING!
+1 # Glen 2012-08-05 05:53
Further research will be done locally, but pollutants and pathogens were ruled out. Any radiation in the water of air would have been detected, especially considering how aware scientists are of the events at Fukushima. Perhaps this cancer will show up in other types of fish as well. We will know soon.
-8 # woohooman 2012-08-03 22:01
Vitamin D is one of the most important nutrients to keep an immune system strong.

The MEDIA Mafia - wants to scare people into getting less of it.

The sky is FALLING the sky is FALLING!
+7 # Gordon K 2012-08-03 23:46
Establishing that the fish have skin cancer is one thing. Demonstrating that it is caused by excess UV radiation is another. I'd want to rule out other carcinogens before I ran for the sunscreen. Vitamin D deficiency in humans is epidemic world wide, and most commercial sunscreen products contain hormone disruptors like oxybenzone. There are a lot of variables here, and simplistic reactions are not necessarily wise.
+1 # jacksmedium 2012-08-04 06:46
Another sign of our times. "When will they ever learn?" --- Never.
+5 # Kootenay Coyote 2012-08-04 08:22
This is, evidently an early report; & more research is equally evidently necessary. However the causes of Melanoma are well established. That it should appear significantly coincidentally with the development of ozone holes is another clue.
+7 # Glen 2012-08-04 12:46
As an individual who has had a melanoma removed (and expected to get it due to sun exposure since birth) I can testify to the possibility of even sea life being damaged to the point of cancer. Many people do not research these issues, most especially something as far distant as the ozone layer.

There are numerous influences on the ozone layer, the most recent being the fierce storms over the U.S. this summer, dumping enormous amounts of water into the stratosphere, which is normally dry. Bone dry has been used to describe it. That layer even today continues to be dismantled by CFCs due to the half life of those chemicals.

At any rate, between skin cancer, blindness, cataracts, and burned up leaves on plants, regardless of sufficient water, and now fish, it is believable that UVs are coming in full force. Add to that recent solar flares and you've got a concern for all life.

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