On the apparent rarity of epithelial cancers in captive chimpanzees.
Malignant neoplasms arising from epithelial cells are called carcinomas. Such cancers are diagnosed in about one in three humans in 'developed' countries, with the most common sites affected being lung, breast, prostate, colon, ovary and pancreas. By contrast, carcinomas are said to be rare in captive chimpanzees, which share more than 99% protein sequence homology with humans (and possibly in other related 'great apes'-bonobos, gorillas and orangutans). Simple ascertainment bias is an unlikely explanation, as these nonhuman hominids are recipients of excellent veterinary care in research facilities and zoos, and are typically subjected to necropsies when they die. In keeping with this notion, benign tumours and cancers that are less common in humans are well documented in this population. In this brief overview, we discuss other possible explanations for the reported rarity of carcinomas in our closest evolutionary cousins, including inadequacy of numbers surveyed, differences in life expectancy, diet, genetic susceptibility, immune responses or their microbiomes, and other potential environmental factors. We conclude that while relative carcinoma risk is a likely difference between humans and chimpanzees (and possibly other 'great apes'), a more systematic survey of available data is required for validation of this claim.