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Many of us think of cancer as a contemporary killer, a disease of our own making caused by our modern lifestyles. But, as Kat Arney explains in her new book REBEL CELL: Cancer Evolution and the Science of Life, that perception just isn’t true. Although it might be rare in many species, cancer is the enemy lurking within almost every living creature. Why? Because cancer is a bug in the system of life. We get cancer because we can't not get it.

Cancer has always been with us. It killed our hominid ancestors, the mammals they evolved from and the dinosaurs that trampled the ground before that. Tumours grow in pets, livestock and wild animals. Even tiny jelly-like Hydra - creatures that are little more than a tube full of water - can get cancer.

Cancer starts when cells rebel against the social norms of the body, throwing off their molecular shackles and growing out of control in a shambolic mockery of normal life. This is why we can't avoid cancer: because the very genes that drive it are essential for life itself.

The revolution has raged, on and off, for millions of years. But it was only in the twentieth century that doctors and scientists made any significant progress in understanding and treating cancer, and it is only in the past few decades that we’ve finally begun to kick the mob’s malignant arse.

Now the game is changing. Scientists have infiltrated cancer's cellular rebellion and are finally learning its secrets. Seeing cancer in a new way – as rebel cells adapting and evolving within the landscape of the body – is pointing towards new ways of preventing and controlling cancer in the long term or even driving it to extinction altogether.

In REBEL CELL, geneticist and science writer Kat Arney reveals that:

  • Modern lifestyles can’t take all the blame – Cancer has been around for millions of years and affects almost all multicellular organisms, with some notable exceptions. Sponges and comb jellies are remarkably cancer-resistant, for example, although the reason why is still a mystery.

  • Cancer cells are cheats that break the rules – From cells all the way up to human cities, societies function best when everyone obeys the rules. Cancer cells are cheats in the system, bending or completely breaking the rules to their advantage.

  • Cancer is an inevitable part of life – Genetic alterations (mutations) are the fuel for evolution – the force that shaped all life on earth. But this same force is at work within cancer, enabling them to adapt and evolve resistance to treatment.

  • Mutations are much more common than we thought – As we age, our bodies become a patchwork of mutated cells, yet most of these don’t become cancerous. The big question is why?

  • The quest for a cure has derailed our thinking – Focusing on ‘magic bullets’ and pricey wonder drugs has led us away from potentially transformative approaches to preventing and treating cancer based on evolutionary ideas.

REBEL CELL: Cancer Evolution and the Science of Life takes the reader back to the dawn of life on planet earth right up to the present day to get to the heart of what cancer really is and how by better understanding it we might one day overcome it.

About REBEL CELL: About
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