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Why cancer rate increases with age (it's not what you think)
Date:7/2/2012

mutations was key to avoiding cancer, we'd be better at it than we are."

And finally, if these oncogenes were the evil super-villains they've been made out to be, capable of taking over surrounding tissue, then introducing oncogenes into mice stem cells should help rather than hurt these cells' survival. "Rather, stem cells harboring the oncogenes tend to get weeded out," says DeGregori.

Instead of gathering mutations until they give us cancer, DeGregori says that as we age, the mechanisms that younger adults use to fight cancer, deteriorate.

"It's like what happened to the dinosaurs 65 million years ago," DeGregori says. "Dinosaurs were great and they weren't changing that fast they were well adapted to their landscape. Until that darn meteor. Suddenly what was fit was no longer fit. The species didn't have to change their mutation rate it was the new landscape that drove speciation. Similarly, what primarily drives cancer rates higher as we age is the changed landscape."

Our healthy cells are optimized for the conditions of our healthy, younger tissue. Change this balance, as does an oncogenic mutation, and they're no longer a perfect fit for the surroundings healthy cells in young bodies quickly outcompete cells with cancerous mutations.

But, "when tissue is old, healthy cells are no longer a perfect fit, and mutations might help a cancer cell adapt in ways a healthy cell can't," DeGregori says.

Blot out the sun with a meteor's cloud of dust and mammals will eventually outcompete thunder lizards; age tissue past the expiration date evolution's set and cancer cells can outcompete their normal but aged peers.


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Contact: Garth Sundem
garth.sundem@ucdenver.edu
University of Colorado Denver
Source:Eurekalert

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