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Does natural selection drive the evolution of cancer?

helped to illuminate cancer biology.

Mutant cells compete with each other for needed resources. The immune system often kills tumor cells like a predator hunting prey, and the tumor cells that develop defenses against the predation are the ones that survive and reproduce.

An example of parasitism in the tumor environment can be seen in angiogenesis, in which a subset of tumor cells send chemical signals to stimulate the host to generate new blood vessels to supply the tumor with nutrients. The neighboring cells that aren't investing resources in producing the signals take advantage of the nutrients nonetheless.

Mutualism describes a situation in which two organisms interact in a mutually beneficial way. Tumor cells send signals to stimulate the growth of the cells that form the scaffold in which the tumor cells grow, known as fibroblasts. The fibroblasts, in turn, send signals to the tumor cells to stimulate their growth. Recent studies suggest, too, that the fibroblasts in a tumor microenvironment begin to acquire mutations of their own.

"They're co-evolving, and it becomes a dynamic, runaway process," Maley says.
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Source:The Wistar Institute


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