Newsweek

Evolution Revolution: A New Theory on Cancer

If cancer really is a disease in which our cells act like their single-celled ancestors of eons ago, then the current approach to treatment needs a radical overhaul.
An Iranian breast cancer patient's mother massages her head after lumpectomy surgery.
07_28_Evolution_04

Paul Davies knows what’s wrong with cancer research: too much cash and too little forethought. Despite billions of dollars invested in fighting this disease, it has remained an inscrutable foe. “There is this assumption that you can solve the problem by throwing money at it,” he says, “that you can spend your way to a solution.” Davies, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University (ASU)—and therefore somewhat of an interloper in the field of cancer—claims he has a better idea. “I believe you have to think your way to a solution.”

Over the course of several years spent pondering cancer, Davies has come up with a radical approach for understanding it. He theorizes that cancer is a return to an earlier time in evolution, before complex organisms emerged. When a person develops cancer, he posits, their cells regress from their current sophisticated and complex state to become more like the single-celled life prevalent a billion years ago.  

RELATED: Cancer and kids—is medical marijuana the answer?

But while some researchers are intrigued by the theory that cancer is an evolutionary throwback, or atavism, plenty more think it’s silly. That theory suggests that our cells physically revert from their current form—a complex piece in the even more complex puzzle that makes a lung or a kidney or a brain—to a primitive state akin to algae or bacteria, a notion that

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Newsweek

Newsweek4 min readSociety
Journalist's Fearless Investigation of Mexico Massacre
Journalist Anabel Hernández has been investigating collusion between government officials and drug cartels, as well as the illicit drug trade and abuse of power, for Mexico’s biggest publications for more than two decades.
Newsweek7 min readPolitics
How a Social Media Post in Russia Can Land You in Jail
It was just before 6 a.m. when police officers raided Daniil Markin’s apartment in Barnaul, a small Russian city some 2,000 miles from Moscow. Markin, a film student who was 18 at the time of the July 2017 raid, had no idea why police had burst into
Newsweek3 min readSociety
Jill Soloway Reflects on 'Transparent' in New Memoir
In "She Wants It," Soloway tells the story of the hit Amazon show—from the beginning to its messy end.