Women's reproductive cancers in evolutionary context

Q Rev Biol. 1994 Sep;69(3):353-67. doi: 10.1086/418650.


Reproductive experiences for women in today's affluent Western nations differ from those of women in hunting and gathering societies, who continue the ancestral human pattern. These differences parallel commonly accepted reproductive risk factors for cancers of the breast, endometrium and ovary. Nutritional practices, exercise requirements, and body composition are nonreproductive influences that have been proposed as additional factors affecting the incidence of women's cancers. In each case, these would further increase risk for women in industrialized countries relative to forager women. Lifestyles and reproductive patterns new from an evolutionary perspective may promote women's cancers. Calculations based on a theoretical model suggest that, to age 60, modern Western women have a breast cancer risk as much as 100 times that of preagricultural women.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Genital Neoplasms, Female / epidemiology
  • Genital Neoplasms, Female / genetics
  • Genital Neoplasms, Female / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Behavior*