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Clin Epigenetics. 2010 Dec;1(3-4):85-100. doi: 10.1007/s13148-010-0010-6. Epub 2010 Sep 14.

Cancer: evolutionary, genetic and epigenetic aspects.

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N. N. Blokhin Russian Cancer Research Center, Kashirskoye sh. 24, Moscow, 115478 Russia.


There exist two paradigms about the nature of cancer. According to the generally accepted one, cancer is a by-product of design limitations of a multi-cellular organism (Greaves, Nat Rev Cancer 7:213-221, 2007). The essence of the second resides in the question "Does cancer kill the individual and save the species?" (Sommer, Hum Mutat 3:166-169, 1994). Recent data on genetic and epigenetic mechanisms of cell transformation summarized in this review support the latter point of view, namely that carcinogenesis is an evolutionary conserved phenomenon-a programmed death of an organism. It is assumed that cancer possesses an important function of altruistic nature: as a mediator of negative selection, it serves to preserve integrity of species gene pool and to mediate its evolutionary adjustment. Cancer fulfills its task due apparently to specific killer function, understanding mechanism of which may suggest new therapeutic strategy.

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