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A framework for how environment contributes to cancer risk

Hochberg, M. E. & Noble, R. ORCID: 0000-0002-8057-4252 (2017). A framework for how environment contributes to cancer risk. Ecology Letters, 20(2), pp. 117-134. doi: 10.1111/ele.12726


Evolutionary theory explains why metazoan species are largely protected against the negative fitness effects of cancers. Nevertheless, cancer is often observed at high incidence across a range of species. Although there are many challenges to quantifying cancer epidemiology and assessing its causes, we claim that most modern-day cancer in animals - and humans in particular - are due to environments deviating from central tendencies of distributions that have prevailed during cancer resistance evolution. Such novel environmental conditions may be natural and/or of anthropogenic origin, and may interface with cancer risk in numerous ways, broadly classifiable as those: increasing organism body size and/or life span, disrupting processes within the organism, and affecting germline. We argue that anthropogenic influences, in particular, explain much of the present-day cancer risk across life, including in humans. Based on a literature survey of animal species and a parameterised mathematical model for humans, we suggest that combined risks of all cancers in a population beyond c. 5% can be explained to some extent by the influence of novel environments. Our framework provides a basis for understanding how natural environmental variation and human activity impact cancer risk, with potential implications for species ecology.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Hochberg, M. E. and Noble, R. (2017). A framework for how environment contributes to cancer risk.. Ecology Letters, 20(2), pp. 117-134, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.
Publisher Keywords: Ageing, anthropogenic impact, body size, cancer risk, environment, epidemiology, evolutionary mismatch, global change, longevity, modern lifestyles, mutagens, pathogens
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0254 Neoplasms. Tumors. Oncology (including Cancer)
Departments: School of Science & Technology > Mathematics
SWORD Depositor:
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