Abstract

New applications of evolutionary biology are transforming our understanding of cancer. The articles in this special issue provide many specific examples, such as microorganisms inducing cancers, the significance of within-tumor heterogeneity, and the possibility that lower dose chemotherapy may sometimes promote longer survival. Underlying these specific advances is a large-scale transformation, as cancer research incorporates evolutionary methods into its toolkit, and asks new evolutionary questions about why we are vulnerable to cancer. Evolution explains why cancer exists at all, how neoplasms grow, why cancer is remarkably rare, and why it occurs despite powerful cancer suppression mechanisms. Cancer exists because of somatic selection; mutations in somatic cells result in some dividing faster than others, in some cases generating neoplasms. Neoplasms grow, or do not, in complex cellular ecosystems. Cancer is relatively rare because of natural selection; our genomes were derived disproportionally from individuals with effective mechanisms for suppressing cancer. Cancer occurs nonetheless for the same six evolutionary reasons that explain why we remain vulnerable to other diseases. These four principles-cancers evolve by somatic selection, neoplasms grow in complex ecosystems, natural selection has shaped powerful cancer defenses, and the limitations of those defenses have evolutionary explanations-provide a foundation for understanding, preventing, and treating cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)144-159
Number of pages16
JournalEvolutionary Applications
Volume6
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2013

Fingerprint

cancer
Biological Sciences
neoplasms
Neoplasms
natural selection
Genetic Selection
Ecosystem
chemotherapy
ecosystem
evolutionary biology
tumor
ecosystems
mutation
genome
microorganism
somatic cells
drug therapy

Keywords

  • Darwinian
  • Ecological
  • Evolutionary medicine
  • Mismatch
  • Neoplastic
  • Vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics

Cite this

Evolutionary foundations for cancer biology. / Aktipis, C Athena; Nesse, Randolph.

In: Evolutionary Applications, Vol. 6, No. 1, 01.2013, p. 144-159.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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