beth israel deaconess medical center a harvard medical school teaching hospital

  • Contact BIDMC
  • Maps & Directions
  • Other Locations
  • Careers at BIDMC
  • Smaller Larger

Find a Doctor

Request an Appointment

Smaller Larger

Cancer and Evolution

Posted 6/30/2016

Posted in

  It's time for another nerdy entry. This one is not too dense and well worth a few minutes of your time as it helps us understand why cancer is such a difficult problem. The more you know, the more complicated it gets. It all seems related to the old expression about Throw a pebble at Mother Nature, and she responds with a thunder bolt.

  This is from the BBC and will leave you both better informed and more skeptical of all the headlines about winning the war on cancer. Not so fast....

How cancer was created by evolution

The latest figures show just how distant a prospect victory is right now. In the US, the lifetime risk of
developing cancer is 42% in men and 38% in women, according to the American Cancer Society. The
figures are even worse in the UK. According to Cancer Research UK, 54% of men and 48% of women
will get cancer at some point in their lives.
And cases are on the rise. As of 2015 there are 2.5 million people in the UK living with the disease,
according to Macmillan Cancer Support. This is an increase of 3% each year, or 400,000 extra cases in five
Figures like this show that cancer is not only extremely pervasive, but also becoming more
and more common. But why will so many people develop the disease at some point in their lives?
To get to the answer, we must understand that cancer is an unfortunate by-product of the way evolution
works. Large and complicated animals like humans are vulnerable to cancer precisely because they are
large and complicated.
But even though it is evolutionary processes that have made cancer such a problem, it is also evolutionary thinking that is now leading to pioneering treatments that could stack the odds against cancer and in
favour of our health

Read more:


Add your comment