She loved water. Not me. No, wait - that didn't come out right.
The NY Times provides a summary of a recent paper that treats of what you might be tempted to call the “philosophy of cancer”, by which I mean the nature of such aberrations as viewed in light of evolution. All that sounds thick and stifling, but that would be an unfair assessment of this short article. You should read it.
The gist, honestly (but perhaps erroneously, in part) summarized
Multicellularity (as in us, fruit flies and grapefruit) has evolved from single-cellularity at least seven times – mostly in braches of life I have never heard of before. It evolves because it offers certain survival benefits. However, multicellularity require sacrifice – cells must give up their absolute freedom to behave as they see fit, and instead assume certain definite roles and functions. What we call cancer is simply one way to describe the result when a cell rebels against these restrictions and begins to do what IT wants to do, rather than what the ORGANISM requires. The organism has devised many ways to snuff out such a rebellious cell, but sometimes they fail. And that’s about it.
I have pondered these concepts for, oh, easily 30 minutes, and I am somewhat puzzled. Evolution is largely based on natural selection: everything else equal, that unit prospers that is most aptly suited to its environment. The key is survival. The authors of this article (web address given below) regard the success of a tumor as a benefit to survival – of the tumor. However, in the end the organism dies, and so does the tumor. Rotten kind of “success”, I would say.
Here is the original article. I am going to study it and see if deeper understanding evolves. However, my great grandkids are visting (with their mothers, of course), so I have better things to do right now.