Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 27, Issue 6, pp 785–810

Cancer cells and adaptive explanations

Article

Abstract

The aim of this paper is to assess the relevance of somatic evolution by natural selection to our understanding of cancer development. I do so in two steps. In the first part of the paper, I ask to what extent cancer cells meet the formal requirements for evolution by natural selection, relying on Godfrey-Smith’s (Darwinian populations and natural selection. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009) framework of Darwinian populations. I argue that although they meet the minimal requirements for natural selection, cancer cells are not paradigmatic Darwinian populations. In the second part of the paper, I examine the most important examples of adaptation in cancer cells. I argue that they are not significant accumulations of evolutionary changes, and that as a consequence natural selection plays a lesser role in their explanation. Their explanation, I argue, is best sought in the previously existing wiring of the healthy cells.

Keywords

Cancer Adaptation Natural selection Explanation Darwinian populations 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Università degli Studi di Milano, European Institute of Oncology (IEO)MilanItaly

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