Cancer and Other Neoplasias

Cancer in amphibians is considered to be an extremely rare event. However, four cases were found by CSIRO many years ago during their chytrid testing of hundreds of frogs from eastern Australia. Not intending to outdo the rest of the country, Cairns has the dubious distinction of already having confirmed at least a dozen cases of squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer) in local frogs (these are in addition to what CSIRO has found) and at least one case of adenocarcinoma and a possibly world's first case of osteosarcoma in a frog.

Unfortunately, other tumours have also turned up. A biopsy of a growth on a rainforest frog's back was found to contain melanin but no futher determination was made as to if and what type of cancer it might be. From 2000 to 2002, four frogs were turned in with growths which have been identified as "epidermal papillomas" or benign tumours. Please note however that subsequent lab work has identified this same tumour as an adenocarcinoma which suggests there might be some variation in how labs classify these things. Just in the period from April to June 2003, we received another five cases of this type of growth. Two of these had both the papilloma type growth and another which was different again and definitely not nasopharyngeal squamous cell. We missed the opportunity to test the first frog sporting this new unobtrusive growth type (didn't have the money) but the second from (from Trinity Beach) was biopsied and the results came back (January 5th, 2004) as adenocarcinoma - a highly malignant cancer. This confirmed case appeared to be exactly the same tumour type as the previous case which was untested so it is possible we have received two cases of sebaceous adenocarcinoma.

Another type of tumour was present in two cases that came in just after cyclone Yasi passed through on February 3rd, 2011. Both cases were Litoria caerulea and both tumours were circular, about 1cm in diametre and just under the skin with an exposed patch where the skin was retreating. In view of our past experiences with some of the cancer cases that had been sent to allegedly "credible" labs, we opted not to bother sending these. We could have sent them to the commercial vet lab but we weren't receiving enough financial support to afford that.

We have also received a case (Litoria caerulea) from Biboora (Mareeba region) which had multiple growths in its mouth. These were treated for parasites and protozoa to eliminate those as possibilities and treated with antibiotic in case they were bacterial absesses. None of the treatments worked and the growths actually enlarged to the extent that the frog could no longer swallow food. It was euthanaised. Again, we would have preferred to send it to the commerical vet lab but couldn't afford it.

The number of cancer cases we are getting is extremely disconcerting. First impressions might be that the skin cancer cases are the result of the powerful sun exposure here in the tropics but this is not the 'best guess'. Chronic infections can also lead eventually to cancer but this is still not the 'best guess'. Another theory proposed to us which makes a lot more sense is the excessive level of chemicals in this region (used by everybody from households to councils to agriculture).

The squamous cell tumours we have seen on twelve of these frogs are called nasopharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma and this particular type of tumour is very common in people in China. In that country, that cancer is caused by a virus! Two different viruses have been implicated there: Epstein Barr Virus (which is common around the world) and one of the Papilloma (herpes) group of viruses. We have provided the tissues of this type to a virus researcher but the tissues became damaged in a power outage. Another lab (in TAS) had a look at the fifth case of this type (from Gordonvale) and reported that the tumour tissues were entirely consistent with papilloma induced growths.

Adenocarcinoma has been found in the Leopard frog (Rana pipiens) in the USA and Dr. Debra Carlson has been researching the virus that causes this particular cancer known as Lucke's rhenal adenocarcinoma. She discovered a herpes virus as the cause. It is very possible the cancer cases here in Cairns might be viral as well. Most of the initial cancer cases we have received were from a very specific part of Cairns, that being the northern beaches. But cases are popping up from other areas over the years including White Rock, Gordonvale, areas around Innisfail, South Mission Beach, Bingil Bay, East Feluga, Townsville, Blackrock, Sarina, Weipa, and Port Douglas. Because so little frog work has been done on amphibian health problems outside of chytrid fungus, we don't know if there were any cases prior to our start up in August 1998. This might be a very recent problem tied to the approval of newer chemicals.

Another possible coincidence to these cases stems from the reference above to a particular type of squamous cell carcinoma being common in China. It is worth pointing out that, on March 12th, 1999, a boatload of illegal immigrants from China grounded and disembarked right on the northern beaches of Cairns at Holloways. They dispersed throughout the immediate area, taking two weeks to all be apprehended. One month later, our first two cases of squamous cell turned up within two days of each other - one from the suburb next to Holloways and the other from three suburbs away.

We contacted the immigration department to ask about what sort of medical procedures would have been invoked before the immigrants were returned to China and if any viral tests were done or tumours seen. However, they said that their medical examinations did not include any virus tests and no visible tumours were noted amongst the arrivals. Perhaps there is no connection at all but it remains a most interesting coincidence.

The table below lists the cases we have received of neoplasias (tumours). The vast majority of cases have been in the White-lipped tree frog is Litoria infrafrenata except for record number 334 from Bayview Heights which was Litoria leseueri ; also case number 2365 - a new, unknown tumour type which has only appeared so far in in Litoria caerulea ; and the most recent case of the L. caerulea from Sarina which turned out to be a different type of squamous cell.

There are more potential tumour cases that have come in but without a biopsy, we didn't want to list them. Some of the vets in Cairns have also received neoplasia cases but we do not have records of what they have received.

A point about the identification methods we use: although our academic readers would be more confident if we always sent growths for an official biopsy result, each of these biopsies can cost us $250. Considering how distinctive some of these tumour types are and how many of them are arriving, we can't afford to pay $250 to verify something that looks to be certain. We use biopsies for the first couple cases or when a tumour is different. Additionally, to be fair, we can also point out that in many cases when we did send our cancer specimens to bonfide, accredited labs, the vast majority of our specimens either mysteriously "vanished" after arriving at those labs, or work was allegedly done but we were not provided with any results. That speaks volumes to us about the official lack of interest in these cases! We are far more selective now about who will be allowed to test our specimens.

Of note also is that the cancer problem is getting worse in 2022 and 2023:  a new tumour type showed up in 2022 that we are waiting on results for; cancer frogs are showing up in new areas; individual frogs are turning up with more than one tumour type on the same body; and a suspected tumour has appeared on a juvenile (first time we have seen a cancer case in a young frog).  We are presently working on a private project to document and publish these neoplasias.  We ask that any frog with a lump anywhere on the body be directed to our attention from anywhere in QLD so that we can better map where and what types of cancers are active throughout the state.

WE ASK that if you are referring to our information in your own reports or work, please provide a credit for our information and a copy of the resulting publication to us. Thank you.

Record# Arrived Suburb Tumour Type ID Method
31 April 1999 Parramatta Park naso. squamous cell biopsy
32 April 1999 Machans Beach naso. squamous cell visual
137 May 2000 Machans Beach internal squamous cell post mortem
277 January 2001 Trinity Beach naso. squamous cell and pre-cancerous cells on dorsum biopsies
334 March 2001 Bayview Heights unknown, contained melanin biopsy by JCU
359 April 2001 Trinity Park epidermal papillomas visual from later biopsy, another frog
402 June 2001 Yorkeys Knob unidentified growths biopsy couldn't ID
404 July 2001 Holloways Beach naso. squamous cell visual
405 July 2001 Port Douglas epidermal papillomas biopsy
lost 2001 Edge Hill epidermal papillomas visual
lost February 2002 Trinity Beach epidermal papillomas visual
937 January 2003 Gordonvale naso. squamous cell biopsy
1050 April 2003 Caravonica possible adenocarcinoma based on biopsy of later case
1063 May 2003 Kewerra Beach epidermal papillomas visual
1081 June 2003 Trinity Beach sebaceous adenocarcinoma and epidermal papillomas biopsy and visual
1086 June 2003 Whitfield epidermal papillomas visual
1122 August 2003 North Cairns epidermal papillomas visual
1166 October 2003 Kewerra Beach extensive epid. papillomas visual
1255 March 2004 Whitfield pre-cancerous cells visual
1288 May 2004 Machans Beach naso. squamous cell visual
1290 May 2004 Trinity Beach epidermal papillomas visual
1295 May 2004 Clifton Beach epidermal papillomas visual
1625 April 2006 Mooroobool epidermal papillomas visual
1713 October 2006 Machans Beach osteosarcoma (chondrosarcoma) verified by JCU
2069 June 2008 Trinity Beach naso. squamous cell visual, to Biosecurity Q.
2115 Oct 2008 Mundoo epidermal papillomas visual, to UQ
2149 Jan 2009 Manunda naso. squamous cell visual, to UQ
2235 Dec 2009 Machans Beach naso. squamous cell visual, to JCU
2260 Feb 2010 Clifton Beach naso. squamous cell visual, to UQ
2365 Feb 2011 Townsville unknown tumour  
2369 Mar 2011 Parramatta Pk epidermal papillomas visual, to DPI lab
2386 April 2011 Innisfail unknown tumour (same as TNS case)  
2551 Jan 2013 White Rock naso. squamous cell visual
2610 Jan 2014 Koah epidermal papillomas visual
3001 Dec 2018 White Rock epidermal papilloma + mouth tumour visual
3002 Dec 2018 Bingil Bay early papilloma visual
3003 Dec 2018 Bingil Bay early papilloma visual
3067 Oct 2019 Machans Beach early squamous cell visual
3084 Nov 2019 Aloomba squamous cell visual
3085 Dec 2019 East Feluga epidermal papilloma visual
3156 June 2020 Blackrock spindle cell soft tissue sarcoma * note this case looks like an early version of case #402 which the lab used said they couldn't ID lab verified, QML Vetnostics
3246 Jan 2021 Clifton Beach neoplastic glaucoma vet ID, Marlin Coast Vets
3255 March 2021 Mission Beach epidermal papilloma


3303 July 2021 Holloways Bch squamous cell carcinoma visual
3327 Oct 2021 Moresby papilloma visual, labs pending
3379 March 2022 Cairns North adenocarcinoma, squamous cell Vetnostics
3444 Nov 2022 Carmoo papilloma visual, labs pending
3460 Dec 2022 Edge Hill new tumour type
Subcutaneous mesenchymal
3474 Jan 2023 Cooktown papilloma, squamous labs embargoed for paper
3505 May 2023 Annandale new type labs embargoed for paper
3506 may 2023 So. Mission Beach probable squamous cell labs embargoed for paper
3520 Sept 2023 Weipa, Qld probable squamous cell labs embargoed for paper
3533 Nov 2023 White Rock squamous cell visual
3555 Jan 2024 Sarina, Qld mouth tumours on L. caerulea - squamous cell carcinoma QML Vetnostics

The gap in the cases between 2014 and 2018 is interesting but might simply reflect that frog numbers have dropped significantly since the malformations problem started in Jan 2003.

We would like to know urgently of any frogs you find with lumps on the face or body no matter where in the country you are so that we can verify if it is a neoplasia or might be another problem which can be treated. Always use gloves (or a plastic bag over your hand if nothing else is available) to handle a sick or injured frog and carry a couple clean, plastic containers with secure lids (air holes too please!) in your car, ready for anything you might find.

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