This easy to read article by ACE’s Amy M. Boddy, just published in European Journal of Epidemiology (2022), argues that even if we could  understand all the mechanisms for cells to turn cancerous, it wouldn’t be enough to help us treat and avoid the disease.   For real progress,  we need to take a multi-disciplinary approach that considers evolutionary and ecological perspectives too.

European Journal of Epidemiology (2022), Published 17 November 2022


Sir Richard Peto is well known for proposing puzzling paradoxes in cancer biology—some more well-known than others. In a 1984 piece, Peto proposed that after decades of molecular biology in cancer research, we are still ignorant of the biology underpinning cancer. Cancer is a product of somatic mutations. How do these mutations arise and what are the mechanisms? As an epidemiologist, Peto asked if we really need to understand mechanisms in order to prevent cancer? Four decades after Peto’s proposed ignorance in cancer research, we can simply ask, are we still ignorant? Did the great pursuit to uncover mechanisms of cancer eclipse our understanding of causes and preventions? Or can we get closer to treating and preventing cancer by understanding the underlying mechanisms that make us most vulnerable to this disease?