How Cancer Spreads: Reconceptualizing a Disease
Despite tremendous advances in cancer research, a stubborn gap exists between these advances and successful treatments that reduce mortality. One strategic way to address this gap is to model cancer as an infectious disease that we give ourselves. This conceptual maneuver shifts attention from cellular proliferation and tumor growth (how cancer grows) to cellular motility and metastasis (how cancer spreads), and emphasizes properties of cancerous cells that are responsible for the majority of deaths. We use the case of cystic fibrosis as an analogy to show the value of conceptualizing a genetic disease that is recalcitrant to treatment as an infectious disease. One consequence of modeling cancer in this manner is a more direct engagement with the pathological features of cancer’s biology and, therefore, it has increased promise for identifying novel clinical applications-the primary goal of translational medicine.