BOSTON (CBS) – Being overweight increases your risk of cancer, but it turns out this is not always the case in the rest of the animal kingdom. Whales, for example, rarely get cancer, and researchers from Northern Arizona University wanted to know why.

Despite being big and blubbery, whales rarely develop or die from cancer, unlike humans and other mammals like cats and dogs. The same is true for elephants.

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To find out why, researchers studied the DNA of skin samples taken from a female humpback whale off the coast of Massachusetts. Her name is Salt, and scientists have been studying her for decades.

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They found that whales like Salt experience fewer DNA mutations over time as compared with other mammals, have “housekeeping” genes that help repair cell damage, and have extra tumor suppressor genes that help prevent cancer from forming.

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They’re hoping this knowledge will help scientists develop drugs to prevent and treat cancer in humans.

Dr. Mallika Marshall