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Cancer and life-history traits: lessons from host–parasite interactions



Despite important differences between infectious diseases and cancers, tumour development (neoplasia) can nonetheless be closely compared to infectious disease because of the similarity of their effects on the body. On this basis, we predict that many of the life-history (LH) responses observed in the context of host–parasite interactions should also be relevant in the context of cancer. Parasites are thought to affect LH traits of their hosts because of strong selective pressures like direct and indirect mortality effects favouring, for example, early maturation and reproduction. Cancer can similarly also affect LH traits by imposing direct costs and/or indirectly by triggering plastic adjustments and evolutionary responses. Here, we discuss how and why a LH focus is a potentially productive but under-exploited research direction for cancer research, by focusing our attention on similarities between infectious disease and cancer with respect to their effects on LH traits and their evolution. We raise the possibility that LH adjustments can occur in response to cancer via maternal/paternal effects and that these changes can be heritable to (adaptively) modify the LH traits of their offspring. We conclude that LH adjustments can potentially influence the transgenerational persistence of inherited oncogenic mutations in populations.


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* Corresponding author. CREEC/ MIVEGEC, UMR IRD/CNRS/UM 5290, 911 Avenue Agropolis, BP 64501, 34394 Montpellier Cedex 5, France. Phone +33 (0)4 67 41 63 18. Fax: +33 (0)4 67 41 63 30. E-mail:


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Cancer and life-history traits: lessons from host–parasite interactions



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