Cancer and evolution

Cancer a Failed By-product of Genetic Evolution?

Cancer is a disease characterized by an uncontrollable division of cells that can invade surrounding tissues or spread to other parts of the body through a process known as metastasis. This uncontrollable division or proliferation is associated with genetic alterations in tumor suppressor genes that control cell division, DNA repair, and apoptosis.

These genetic alterations are more pronounced with aging where this control is gradually diminished. During evolution, species underwent genetic changes that were imposed on them by environmental factors and that prompt them to adapt.

However, they also had to develop tumor suppressive mechanisms to prevent cancer development because of those same changes. Therefore, cancer is considered an evolutionary process that mirrors the evolution of species [1].

Is Cancer an Unfortunate By-product of Evolution?

Cancer is an evolutionary process that escaped the control of the evolutionary tumor suppressive mechanisms that are being developed by species while following their natural evolution.

To escape tumor suppressive mechanisms, cancer established counteracting mechanisms such as growth self-stimulation, resistance to inhibitory signals, apoptosis avoidance, angiogenesis, unlimited replication, metastasis, genome instability [2].

In this case, cancer can be considered as an unfortunate by-product of evolution. It can also be understood as a natural selection process to promote healthier and stronger individuals to perpetuate the existence of the concerned species.

For instance, factors that are associated with cancer development, such as aging and carcinogens, have been shown to promote cancer evolution by impacting both mutation and selection processes [1].

Limiting the Damages of Cancer Through Regulating Epigenetics

Epigenetics is a natural and regular process by which environmental and behavioral factors affect the expression and activity of genes, independently of alterations in DNA sequences (genotype), such as during genetic mutations.

These modifications can be transmitted to daughter cells and are influenced by several factors, including age, the environment, lifestyles, and disease states.

Therefore, to limit the potential emergence of age-related cancers, promoting healthier lifestyles including an effective epigenetic diet, exercise, and lowering stress factors, can be significantly beneficial in preventing cancer emergence.


Cancer is an evolutionary process that developed resistance to evolutionary tumor suppressive mechanisms and that is part of the evolutionary selective process to promote healthier and stronger individuals to perpetuate the existence of the species.

However, the emergence of cancer is also controlled by epigenetics that can be modulated through healthier ways of everyday life.


[1] Casás-Selves, M. and DeGregori, J., 2011. How cancer shapes evolution and how evolution shapes cancer. Evolution: Education and outreach4(4), pp.624-634.

[2] Hanahan, D. and Weinberg, R.A., 2000. The hallmarks of cancer. cell100(1), pp.57-70.

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