How Elephants And Whales Out-Evolved Cancer.

And Why We Still Can’t.

Aaryan Harshith
7 min readAug 17, 2020


No, this isn’t a joke.

Animals don’t have some kind of cosmic radiation emanating from the left side of their brain that makes them immortal. This isn’t an essential oil commercial either.

Nature has actually beat cancer. Besides elephants and whales, we’re convinced that at least 10 other animals could do the same, and there might be thousands more we haven’t even discovered yet.

That means nature’s beat cancer 12 times — and potentially in 12 unique ways.

On the other hand, it looks like us homo sapiens got the short end of the stick when it came to evolution. Even with our scientific knowledge and millennia of research, we haven’t found a single reliable cure.

But that begs the question — do they know or use something we don’t? Could we learn a thing or two from our animal friends? And if so, what would it mean for a disease that’s ravaged us since the beginning of time?

Big Animals & Peto’s Paradox:

There are too many theories that are up for debate when it comes to cancer, but one thing we know for sure is that it’s a cellular disease.

If your body was a computer, then cancer would be like programming it with buggy code and running it anyway. In our bodies, these errors (called mutations) take place in our DNA — the chemical building blocks that our bodies run on.

But unlike the analogy of a computer, our bodies aren’t perfect. Most of us are born mutation-free — but the right combination of mutations at the right time is all it takes for us to develop cancer.

Whether it’s exposure to UV light, smoking, or just bad luck, our genetic code becomes that much more vulnerable to mutating for the worse.

Except, here’s where things stop making sense. Enter Peto’s paradox: