Cancer: beyond speciation.

Source: PubMed

A good account of the nature of cancer should provide not only a description of its consistent features, but also how they arise, how they are maintained, why conventional chemotherapy succeeds, and fails, and where to look for better targets. Cancer was once regarded as enigmatic and inexplicable; more recently, the “mutation theory,” based on random alterations in a relatively small set of proto-oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes, has enjoyed widespread acceptance. The “mutation theory,” however, is noticeable for its failure to explain the basis of differential chemosensitivity, for providing a paucity of targets, especially druggable ones, and for justifying the development of targeted therapies with, in general, disappointingly abbreviated clinical benefit. Furthermore, this theory has mistakenly predicted a widespread commonality of consistent genetic abnormalities across the range of cancers, whereas the opposite, that is, roiling macrogenomic instability, is generally the rule. In contrast, concerning what actually is consistent, that is, the suite of metabolic derangements common to virtually all, especially aggressive, cancers, the “Mutation Theory” has nothing to say. Other hypotheses merit serious consideration “aneuploidy theories” posit whole-genome instability and imbalance as causally responsible for the propagation of the tumor. Another approach, that is, “derepression atavism,” suggests cancer results from the release of an ancient survival program, characterized by the emergence of remarkably primitive features such as unicellularity, fermentation, and immortality; existential goals are served by heuristic genomic instability coupled with host-to-tumor biomass interconversion, mediated by the Warburg effect, a major component of the program. Carcinogenesis is here seen as a process of de-speciation; however, genomic nonrestabilization raises issues as to where on the tree of life cancers belong, as a genuinely alternative modus vivendi. Philosophical considerations aside, genomic instability offers the prospect of subtle new therapies based on loss of information rather than gain; and the consistent, specific, and broad-spectrum perfidy of the Warburg effect highlights a supplemental target of the highest priority.

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