Scientists find some human cancers to be 'evolutionary accidents'

April 17, 2018, University of Liverpool
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

New research, published in Biological Reviews and conducted by researchers from the University of Liverpool and Escola Superior de Ciências da Saúde (Brasília, Brazil) has found some type of cancers unique to humans may be a result of evolutionary accidents.

Cancer is a major cause of death worldwide. But humans are not the only species affected by ; in fact, only a few primitive animals are thought to escape the disease. Furthermore, incidence rates and cancer types differ widely among species. However, how cancer patterns in humans compare to those of other species remains largely unknown.

Researchers, led by Dr Joao Pedro De Magalhaes from the University of Liverpool's Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease, aimed to identify further clues about cancer and its evolutionary underpinnings in humans and across a wide range of animals by conducting the largest survey of animal cancer data to date.

The researchers began examining data relating to primates then continued onto other mammals before examining cancer in birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish and finally invertebrates and plants. They then reviewed the cancer incidence and types for humans and animal types.

They found that some types of cancer are widespread across nearly all species, like blood cancers (lymphomas and leukaemia), and there are some types of cancer that seem to be unique of humans, like lung cancer, prostate and testicular cancers. These could be evolutionary accidents, a product of random events in the evolution of our species.

Dr De Magalhaes, said: "Perhaps unique mutations during the evolution of the lineage contribute to the disproportionately high incidence of some cancers in our species when compared to all other studied species."

Another hypothesis is that the increasing life expectancy of humans is allowing the appearance of cancers that would not have affected our ancestors.

First author Thales Albuquerque, said: "Cancer rates among humans are high, and they are bound to keep increasing. We still do not know all mechanisms that lead to such a high incidence of cancer in our species, but one hypothesis is that cultural changes and technological advances have produced the greatest of evolutionary mismatches - a situation where the environment changes into something different from that which a is adapted to, and that provokes stress and may increase susceptibility to cancer.

Dr De Magalhaes: "Our work highlights the different evolutionary pressures acting on cancer early in life (with a high prevalence of presumably driven by the need to fight pathogens) and cancer late in life that escapes natural selection, including human-specific cancers that may be evolutionary accidents or related to a mismatch with the modern environment and lifestyle."

Explore further: Cold discomfort: Increasing cancer rates and adaptation of living in extreme environments

More information: Thales A. F. Albuquerque et al, From humans to hydra: patterns of cancer across the tree of life, Biological Reviews (2018). DOI: 10.1111/brv.12415

Related Stories

Cold discomfort: Increasing cancer rates and adaptation of living in extreme environments

December 5, 2017
It is well known that cancer incidence is increasing worldwide, with pockets of human populations and geographical locations seemingly at higher risk than others.

Inbred organisms are more likely to develop tumours

March 22, 2018
Inbreeding could lead to increased rates of cancer, putting both humans and endangered animals at risk according to a review led by researchers at Deakin University's Centre for Integrative Ecology.

One to 10 mutations are needed to drive cancer, scientists find

October 19, 2017
For the first time, scientists have provided unbiased estimates of the number of mutations needed for cancers to develop, in a study of more than 7,500 tumours across 29 cancer types. Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger ...

Certain types of cancer becoming more common, while rates of others decreasing

December 16, 2006
Skin, breast and prostate cancer on the rise, while lung and colon cancer decline Nation-wide statistics indicate that while some types of cancer are occurring less frequently, the rates of others are still surging upward. ...

Cancer cures could work for canines and humans

July 12, 2007
One of the major issues associated with longer life expectancy in man and his best friend is an increase in the incidence of cancer. Even though they cannot talk it seems dogs might be able to tell us why and how certain ...

Chimera viruses can help the fight against lymphomas

September 15, 2017
Researchers from Instituto de Medicina Molecular (iMM) Lisboa have created a chimera virus that allows the study of molecules to treat cancers caused by human herpes virus infection in mice models of disease.

Recommended for you

In zebrafish, a way to find new cancer therapies, targeting tumor modulators

September 21, 2018
The lab of Leonard Zon, MD, at Boston Children's Hospital has long been interested in making blood stem cells in quantity for therapeutic purposes. Looking for a way to test for their presence in zebrafish, their go-to research ...

What can salad dressing tell us about cancer? Think oil and vinegar

September 20, 2018
Researchers led by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital scientists have identified another way the process that causes oil to form droplets in water may contribute to solid tumors, such as prostate and breast cancer. The ...

Novel biomarker found in ovarian cancer patients can predict response to therapy

September 20, 2018
Despite months of aggressive treatment involving surgery and chemotherapy, about 85 percent of women with high-grade wide-spread ovarian cancer will have a recurrence of their disease. This leads to further treatment, but ...

Testing fluorescent tracers used to help surgeons determine edges of breast cancer tumors

September 20, 2018
A team of researchers with members from institutions in The Netherlands and China has conducted a test of fluorescent tracers meant to aid surgeons performing tumor removal in breast cancer patients. In their paper published ...

Cancer immunotherapy might benefit from previously overlooked immune players

September 20, 2018
Cancer immunotherapy—efforts to boost a patient's own immune system, allowing it to better fight cancer cells on its own—has shown great promise for some previously intractable cancers. Yet immunotherapy doesn't work ...

New way to target advanced breast cancers

September 20, 2018
A cytokine signature found in certain kinds of breast cancer cells can not only serve as a diagnostic tool for HER2-negative cancers but also offer an effective treatment target.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.