The Beginnings of Cancer
Since I will be traveling much of tomorrow, I am doing tomorrow's blog approximately twelve hours early. This is a fascinating piece from the New York Times about the very beginnings of cancer. When I wrote about statistics a few days ago, I admitted not having a great math record, and, sadly, that is also true of science. The older I have become, the more fascinated I have become by the natural world and science and sometimes wish that this particular spark had been lit in high school.
Occasionally I share an article with the caveat that this is for the nerds among us, and this is one of those. However, I would strongly encourage everyone to at least skim it. Even if your eyes glaze over, this is a reminder of how really difficult it is for a cancer to start. Nature has built in countless protections and double checks and triple checks, and there really has to be a perfect storm of problems for a cancer cell to arise and thrive.
Here is the start and a link. Please give it a try:
Cellular ‘Cheaters’ Give Rise to Cancer
Maybe it was in “some warm little pond,” Charles Darwin speculated in 1871, that life on Earth began. A few simple chemicals sloshed together and formed complex molecules. These, over great stretches of time, joined in various combinations, eventually giving rise to the first living cell: a self-sustaining bag of chemistry capable of dividing and spawning copies of itself.
While scientists still debate the specifics, most subscribe to some version of what Darwin suggested — genesis as a fortuitous chemical happenstance. But the story of how living protoplasm emerged from lifeless matter may also help explain something darker: the origin of cancer.
As the primordial cells mutated and evolved, ruthlessly competing for nutrients, some stumbled upon a
different course. They cooperated instead, sharing resources and responsibilities and so giving rise to multicellular creatures — plants, animals and eventually us.
Each of these collectives is held together by a delicate web of biological compromises. By surrendering some of its autonomy, each cell prospers with the whole.
But inevitably, there are cheaters: A cell breaks loose from the interlocking constraints and begins selfishly
multiplying and expanding its territory, reverting to the free-for-all of Darwin’s pond. And so cancer begins.