April 09, 2018

Life History Trade-Offs in Reproduction and Cancer

Amy Boddy, University of California, Santa Barbara

Life history theory is a powerful approach to study human health and disease. However, there has been little work in applications of life history theory in cancer biology. Here I will discuss how cancer is fundamentally characterized by life history trade-offs, as cancer defense mechanisms are a major component of somatic maintenance. Using a newly curated comparative oncology dataset across a wide range of mammals, birds and reptiles, we show a negative relationship with cancer rates and body mass or lifespan. Additionally, these organismal life history traits reflect the cellular response to DNA damage assays, providing insights into potential mechanisms of cancer defense. Understanding these trade-offs in the context of organismal evolution may help explain variability we see in cancer susceptibility across human populations. Additionally, our dataset demonstrates mammals get higher rates of cancer than other vertebrates. I will discuss the constraints of internal gestation, the process of placentation and and how these reproductive processes may lead to a trade-off with cancer susceptibility.