Background: What has evolution got to do with cancer?

Charles Darwin by Ernest Edwards albumen print, 1865-1866 NPG x1500 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Charles Darwin
by Ernest Edwards
albumen print, 1865-1866
NPG x1500
© National Portrait Gallery, London

‘No man, even under torture, can say exactly what a tumour is.’
J. Ewing, 1916

What exactly is cancer? Can we capture its biological essence in a few words or a phrase? For the ancient Greeks, it was a manifestation of black bile, or constitutional melancholy. The common understanding today is that it reflects renegade, mutant cells proliferating out of control, with a potentially lethal consequence: a territorial hijack of essential, normal tissue functions. Continue reading

Time for a new perspective on cancer?

Charles Darwin by Julia Margaret Cameron albumen print, 1868 NPG P8 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Charles Darwin
by Julia Margaret Cameron, albumen print, 1868, NPG P8
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Evolution by natural selection is the foundation law of biology. So we shouldn’t be surprised that it has great relevance to cancer.

‘Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution’
Theodosius Dobzhansky, 1973

Almost 40 years ago, Peter Nowell first championed the idea that cancer is, fundamentally, a process of somatic cell evolution 1. Since then, the concept has been validated and elaborated, such that the striking parallels with Darwinian speciation by natural selection in ecosystems have been highlighted on many occasions 2,3,4. Continue reading