Evolutionary foundations for cancer biology
Article first published online: 21 JAN 2013
© 2012 The Authors. Evolutionary Applications published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Special Issue: Evolution and Cancer
Volume 6, Issue 1, pages 144–159, January 2013
How to Cite
Aktipis, C. A. and Nesse, R. M. (2013), Evolutionary foundations for cancer biology. Evolutionary Applications, 6: 144–159. doi: 10.1111/eva.12034
- Issue published online: 21 JAN 2013
- Article first published online: 21 JAN 2013
- Manuscript Accepted: 12 OCT 2012
- Manuscript Received: 2 OCT 2012
- evolutionary medicine;
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.