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Curr Biol. 2004 Feb 3;14(3):242-6.

Age-specific acceleration of cancer.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697, USA.


One of the great challenges of cancer research is to explain the epidemiological patterns of cancer incidence based on the molecular processes that lead to uncontrolled cellular proliferation. The epidemiological data demonstrate that the age-specific incidence of many cancers increases in an approximately linear way with age when plotted on a log-log scale, with different slopes for different cancers. However, those epidemiological data also show that cancers of various tissues depart from log-log linearity in particular ways. Here, I illustrate those departures from log-log linearity by introducing plots of the age-specific acceleration of cancer. I then develop a very general model of cancer progression, which I use to explain the observed differences between tissues in age-specific acceleration. In one application of the model, I show that the spectacular rise and fall in age-specific acceleration observed in prostate cancer may be explained by multiple rounds of clonal expansion. In a second application, I demonstrate that the steady decline in age-specific acceleration of breast cancer may occur because precancerous mutations accumulate in many cellular lineages.

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