Cancer as an evolutionary and ecological process

  title={Cancer as an evolutionary and ecological process},
  author={Lauren M F Merlo and John W. Pepper and Brian J. Reid and Carlo C. Maley},
  journal={Nature Reviews Cancer},
Neoplasms are microcosms of evolution. Within a neoplasm, a mosaic of mutant cells compete for space and resources, evade predation by the immune system and can even cooperate to disperse and colonize new organs. The evolution of neoplastic cells explains both why we get cancer and why it has been so difficult to cure. The tools of evolutionary biology and ecology are providing new insights into neoplastic progression and the clinical control of cancer. 

Clonal evolution in cancer

The inherently Darwinian character of cancer is the primary reason for this therapeutic failure, but it may also hold the key to more effective control.

An evolutionary perspective on parasitism as a cause of cancer.

  • P. Ewald
  • Biology
    Advances in parasitology
  • 2009

A systematic approach to cancer: evolution beyond selection

C Cognition based evolution is suggested as an alternative approach to cancer development and progression in which neoplastic cells of differing karyotypes and cellular lineages are assessed as self-referential agencies with purposive participation within tissue microenvironments.

The Ecology of Cancer

The drivers of metastatic formations in the tissue environment are discussed, how individuals respond to malignant growth and the impact of this response on populations are investigated and potential avenues for applying evolutionary ecology principles to cancer prevention and to the development of novel treatment strategies are provided.

Genetic Regulatory Mechanisms of Evolution and Embryogenesis in a Distorting Mirror of Carcinogenesis

The article is an attempt to provide an overview of the relationships between the regulatory genetic mechanisms of three fundamental processes of biology, i.e., development, evolution, and cancer.

Turning ecology and evolution against cancer

The fight against cancer has drawn researchers from a wide variety of disciplines, but the perspective of an ecological theorist has been mostly overlooked, which suggests the possibility to exploit the ecology of tumours for treatment.


The consequences of these findings are pivotal to the understanding of the failure that attempts at treatment have encountered thus far, as well as to the design of future therapeutic approaches.

Competitive release in tumors

Developing sophisticated mathematical and computational models of coevolution among clonal and sub-clonal cell populations in the tumor ecosystem can guide us in predicting and shaping various responses to perturbations in the fitness landscape which is altered by chemo-toxic agents.

Infection, mutation, and cancer evolution

An evolutionary perspective suggests that oncogenic viruses will tend to be transmitted by routes that provide infrequent opportunities for transmission, such as transmission by sexual and salivary contact, and molecular mechanisms for persistence often compromise critical barriers to oncogenesis.



Evolutionary biology of cancer.

The linear process of somatic evolution

This work introduces a spatially explicit, asymmetric stochastic process that captures the essential architecture of evolutionary dynamics operating within tissues of multicellular organisms and can slow down the rate of somatic evolution dramatically and therefore delay the onset of cancer.

Dynamics of cancer progression

The fundamental principles that govern the dynamics of activating oncogenes and inactivating tumour-suppressor genes in populations of reproducing cells are revealed.

An error catastrophe in cancer?

An evolutionary model of carcinogenesis.

A quantitative model of carcinogenesis based on methods from population biology and game theory demonstrates normal cells in vivo occupy a ridge-shaped maximum in a well-defined tissue fitness

Somatic selection for and against cancer.

The evolutionary origin of genetic instability in cancer development.

A progression puzzle.

This model of tumour progression carries with it a striking similarity to darwinian evolution within the microcosm of living tissues, in which the units of selection are individual cells.

Mutation selection and the natural history of cancer

Three possible protective mechanisms are discussed and it is shown how they could explain various features of the natural history of certain common cancers of man.

Cancer selection

New theory predicts that cancer selection — selection to prevent or postpone deaths due to cancer — should be especially important as animals evolve new morphologies or larger, longer-lived bodies, and might account for some of the differences in the causes of cancer between mice and men.