Evolutionary biology of cancer

Trends Ecol Evol. 2005 Oct;20(10):545-52. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2005.07.007. Epub 2005 Jul 25.


Cancer is driven by the somatic evolution of cell lineages that have escaped controls on replication and by the population-level evolution of genes that influence cancer risk. We describe here how recent evolutionary ecological studies have elucidated the roles of predation by the immune system and competition among normal and cancerous cells in the somatic evolution of cancer. Recent analyses of the evolution of cancer at the population level show how rapid changes in human environments have augmented cancer risk, how strong selection has frequently led to increased cancer risk as a byproduct, and how anticancer selection has led to tumor-suppression systems, tissue designs that slow somatic evolution, constraints on morphological evolution and even senescence itself. We discuss how applications of the tools of ecology and evolutionary biology are poised to revolutionize our understanding and treatment of this disease.