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Since the late 1990s, Devil Facial Tumour Disease has drastically reduced the devil population and now threatens the survival of the species which, in 2008 was declared endangered. The tumours or cancers are first noticed in and around the mouth as small lesions or lumps. These develop into large tumours around the face and neck and sometimes spread into other parts of the body. DFTD mainly affects adults and males seem to be the first affected followed by females however juveniles as young as one can also be infected.
DFTD is extremely unusual as it is only one of three recorded cancers that can spread like a contagious disease. The tumour/cancer is passed from devil to devil through biting. The tumours interfere with feeding and the affected animal may die an agonising death by starvation within only a few months. Once the cancer becomes visible, it is always fatal.