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Bioessays. 2012 Jan;34(1):72-82. doi: 10.1002/bies.201100049. Epub 2011 Nov 22.

Cancer: a de-repression of a default survival program common to all cells?: a life-history perspective on the nature of cancer.

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Department of Oncology, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada.


Cancer viewed as a programmed, evolutionarily conserved life-form, rather than just a random series of disease-causing mutations, answers the rarely asked question of what the cancer cell is for, provides meaning for its otherwise mysterious suite of attributes, and encourages a different type of thinking about treatment. The broad but consistent spectrum of traits, well-recognized in all aggressive cancers, group naturally into three categories: taxonomy ("phylogenation"), atavism ("re-primitivization") and robustness ("adaptive resilience"). The parsimonious explanation is not convergent evolution, but the release of an highly conserved survival program, honed by the exigencies of the Pre-Cambrian, to which the cancer cell seems better adapted; and which is recreated within, and at great cost to, its host. Central to this program is the Warburg Effect, whose malign influence permeates well beyond aerobic glycolysis to include biomass interconversion and genomic heuristics. Warburg-type metabolism and genomic instability are targets whose therapeutic disablement is a major priority.

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