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Semin Cancer Biol. 2008 Oct;18(5):372-7. doi: 10.1016/j.semcancer.2008.03.012. Epub 2008 Mar 26.

Theories of carcinogenesis: an emerging perspective.

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Tufts University School of Medicine, Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, 136 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA 02111, United States.


Four decades ago Leslie Foulds remarked that "Experimental analysis has produced an alarming mass of empirical facts without providing an adequate language for their communication or effective concepts for their synthesis". Examining the relevance of the data avalanche we all generate and are subjected to in the context of the premises and predictions of the current cancer theories may help resolve this paradox. This goal is becoming increasingly relevant given the looming attempts to rigorously model and parameterize crucial events in carcinogenesis (microenvironmental conditions, cellular proliferation and motility), which will require the adoption of reliable premises on which to base those efforts. This choice must be made a priori, as premises are not testable, and data are not free of the theoretical frame used to gather them. In this review we provide a critical analysis of the two main currents in cancer research, one centered at the cellular level of biological organization, the somatic mutation theory, which conceptualizes carcinogenesis as a problem of cell proliferation control, and the other centered at the tissue level, the tissue organization filed theory, which considers carcinogenesis a process akin to organogenesis gone awry.

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