New Challenges for Cancer Systems Biomedicine

Part of the series SIMAI Springer Series pp 35-51

Phase Transitions in Cancer

  • Ricard V. SoléAffiliated withICREA-Complex Systems Lab, Universitat Pompeu FabraInstitut de Biologia Evolutiva, CSIC-UPFSanta Fe Institute Email author 

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Cancer dynamics is sometimes associated to well-defined transitions between qualitative properties of neoplasms, or even to the shift from presence to regression. Cancer is largely understood as a Darwinian evolution experiment within organisms, characterized by a break of cooperation between cells. Some patterns of sudden change have been identified as phase transitions, similar to those known from the physics of phase changes. Two of them are analyzed here: (a) the shift from cancer to cancer-free tissues under the interaction with the immune system, and (b) the predicted existence of a threshold of instability associated to unstable tumorigenesis. The nature, evidence and implications of these transitions are discussed.