From the International Society for Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health, one of our readers learned recently,
We are pleased to invite you to join us for a Club EvMed event tomorrow, Tuesday, May 26, 2020 at 12:00pm EDT.
Club EvMed: Evolution in the flesh: How cancer cells evolve to cheat the foundations of multicellular cooperation and what this means for cancer treatment and prevention
Join us for a conversation with Athena Aktipis, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University and co-Director of The Human Generosity Project. She’ll be discussing her new book, The Cheating Cell: How Evolution Helps Us Understand and Treat Cancer.
Cancer began at the dawn of multicellular life. It arises from cheating in the cellular cooperation that usually defines multicellularity: division of labor, restrictions of cellular proliferation and resources use, controls on cell death and more. Because cancer arises from a breakdown of multicellular cooperation, this means that humans are not alone in their struggle with cancer; cancer affects all multicellular life forms from humans to elephants and from coral to cacti. Multicellular life has evolved to keep cancer under control, through mechanisms like the gene TP53, which detects cellular cheating and responds by halting the cell cycle or initiating apoptosis to protect the organism. Treating cancer effectively also requires an understanding of the evolutionary processes among cells within the body. Cancer cells evolve to overproliferate and overconsume resources inside the body. They also evolve resistance when cancer is treated aggressively. By using evolutionarily informed approach to treatment we can transform cancer from being a disease that threatens our lives to one we can live with, as our multicellular ancestors have for millions of years.
Why is it that naturalism ends up sounding so much like folklore? Cells “cheat,” which means they can think like people, right? Oh wait. The mind is an illusion … but anyway, cells “think”? Sure. That’ll work.
See: Imagine a world of religions that naturalism might indeed be able to explain
8 Replies to “Darwinians understand cancer: It is caused by “cheating” cells”
We do NOT need to assume universal common descent in order to understand cancer. We do NOT nee to assume blind watchmaker evolution in order to understand cancer. Multicellular life was intelligently designed to keep cancer under control. Unfortunately errors do happen.
Clearly cancer is the result of devolution; something in the cell breaks, allowing it to bypass normal checks and balances, go berserk and then proliferate. Note also that no new “species” comes about as the whole cancer dies with its host, so at best this is a pernicious and temporary form of Darwinian evolution; not something materialists should be pointing to as an example.
Seversky is right. “Cheating” is used in an illustrative sense rather than suggesting that the cancer cells actually make moral decisions.
I also think Fasteddious is correct to note that the cancer dies with the host* so cannot be a long term Darwinian adaption.
*Except perhaps for the facial tumors affecting Tasmanian Devils which can apparently be transmitted from devil to devil.
Cancer is so easy to understand…has nothing to do with Darwin. And it’s incredibly simple:
When cells encounter low or no-oxygen environments they mutate in order to survive. Every cancer, in fact, is driven by hypoxia…as well, all tumor growth and metastasis is driven by hypoxia. See. as cells and tissues become hypoxic, they also become acidic and less energetic. Without oxygen and energy, tissues have a tendency to die and rot…this would not be good in a living organism, as rotting tissues would soon poison and sabotage the whole system. So God ingeniously designed normal cells to mutate when they don’t have enough oxygen; just like bacteria do. This serves the purpose of keeping them alive by altering their mode of generating energy; they go from using oxygen for energy to using sugar for energy.
So as the microenvironment (area around the tumor) becomes more and more hypoxic, tumors grow larger and larger…this not only keeps the local cells alive, but blood vessel formation (which is a fundamental characteristic of tumors) helps keep the environment active. Tumors are not optimal of course, but in a situation of severe tissue damage/carcinogen overload, etc, they serve a valuable purpose. Also, very interestingly, tumors attract toxic chemicals, heavy metals and toxins, helping to isolate and sequester them from the larger system. Tumors, in fact, are chalk full of toxic chemicals, much more so than surrounding tissues. (I can show you papers if you wish) This is why smokers get lung cancer, tobacco chewers get lip and throat cancers, pharmaceutical abusers get kidney cancer, those who get severe sunburns get skin cancer, on and on. Get it? Tumors are there to help wall-off inflammation and toxicity from the rest of the body, while keeping damaged, hypoxic tissues alive.
Thus, cancer formation fits in perfectly with a loving creator, intelligent design, or whatever you want to call it. Cancer is not evil. Tumors are not the enemy. The enemy, if there is one, are the toxic substances and lifestyles that cause tissue damage and hypoxic regions within the body. Tumors are a defense mechanism to help keep the poisoned cells alive and to sequester the damage.
That’s an interesting commentary.
Tommy Hall @ 5
Cancer may not be evil in the sense of acting according to a malevolent purpose but I doubt those suffering and dying from it think of it as anything but a threat to their life and, hence, an enemy.
As for being a defense mechanism, it seems to me that one that kills the being it is supposedly trying to defend rather misses the point. Would it have been beyond the wit of a loving creator to design creatures that were not vulnerable to cancers so did not need the services of a lethal defense mechanism?
Seversky, so let’s think of it this way: One of the things fat cells do is sequester toxic chemicals. So if you eat a bunch of food that has been sprayed with pesticides, much of this pesticide residue will hopefully get excreted. But what doesn’t get excreted ends up in the adipose (fat) tissue. In fact, fat can store toxic pesticides and various POPs (pollutants) for years or decades. This is to keep these harmful substances out of the bloodstream and away from important organs, like the brain, liver, kidneys, etc. You can probably imagine that the body wouldn’t operate well if toxicity was allowed to circulate willy-nilly throughout the system, right? So sure enough, someone who consistently consumes toxic foods, or is around toxic exposure (cigarettes/paint fumes etc) is likely to continually add to their fat reserves, potentially making them gain weight over time. So of course no one would say that gaining weight is good, but it beats the alternative, which is an uncontrolled circulation of toxic chemicals. Right?
No difference with a tumor. It’s a defense mechanism much like fat cells are a defense mechanism. Both are storage warehouses for toxic chemicals.
Breast tumors strongly accumulate toxic metals: https://www.maedica.ro/articles/2007/2007_Vol2(5)_No1/2007_Vol2(5)_No1_pg5-9.pdf
Pesticides accumulate in breast tumors: “There were significantly higher concentrations of methoxychlor, dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT), hexa-chlorobenzene (HCB), and chlordane in tumor tissue samples compared to the surrounding normal tissue.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28067071/
parabens accumulate in breast tumors: http://dr-baumann.ca/science/C.....Breast.pdf
even more interesting, it is well understood that when people have received metal implants or have old war wounds with metal still implanted that tumors tend to grow around these things. The literature is just full of this stuff. Tumors are very site-specific, forming virtual cocoons around metals, toxic injections, plastic devices, and pretty much anything foreign. How could this tumor formation around these foreign objects be considered anything but a defense mechanism to shield the body from toxic chemicals? https://online.boneandjoint.org.uk/doi/pdf/10.1302/0301-620X.33B2.167
Scientists can also trigger quick tumor formation by the injection of toxic chemicals…and again, this happens right at the site of injection. This is the body’s attempt to wall-off toxicity. Metastasis happens when there is uncontrolled toxicity within the body; more and more tumors must form as toxicity increases.