What does Cancer have to do with Evolution???

How many of your Favorite People On Earth have you lost to cancer?

My list is long and growing. My dad died at age 44. Cancer took out my grandpa; numerous aunts and uncles, and my dear friend Tom Hoobyar, the closest person I had to a dad in my adult life. I’ve got two childhood friends, my age, battling it right now.

In my book Evolution 2.0 I said: Cancer is evolution run amok, and until we get evolution right we’re never gonna beat cancer.

A friend put me in touch with a scientist named Henry Heng because of my bookHenry is a cancer researcher in Detroit.  

Long before I wrote anything about cancer, Henry had reached the conclusion, simply based on his own cancer research, that the conventional theory of evolution was unworkable.

He saw that cancer evolves at breathtaking speed – especially once you start trying as hard as you can to kill it.

This is why chemotherapy is so often a death sentence.

Standard evolutionary theory couldn’t account for any of this. It explained “survival of the fittest” but not “arrival of the fittest” – which, if you think about it, is THE question.

The old model did a poor job of explaining the Cambrian explosion, the proliferation of species that happened 540 million years ago. Ken Pienta calls tumor metastasis “The Cancer Cambrian” because the two behave exactly the same way.

Henry felt we should be doing a much better job of answering these questions. He insisted that if we found answers… we would also beat cancer.

And maybe our loved ones would stop dying early.

Major evolutionary systems like epigenetics – from the “Swiss Army Knife” I describe in my book – were either ignored or simply “tacked on” to the old theory. Like someone slapped giant race car tires on the rear axle of a rusty 1991 Ford Escort and called it a race car.

Evolutionary theory had to be stripped down to the engine blocks and rebuilt from the ground up. Because so far as Henry could tell, these systems were the very engine of high-speed cancer evolution.

Henry offered a superior model. He wrote a book in 2011. His manuscript was well on its way to getting published by a major academic publisher.

But one of their traditional peer reviewers threw a fit.

Henry’s book got canned.

Fast forward to 2019 and his book gets rehashed, rewritten, re-released under the title “Genome Chaos.” It explores the overlooked details of how cancer cells evolve. 

Then Henry got in touch with James Shapiro, a well-known geneticist from the University of Chicago. Shapiro had published a book with a similar perspective on evolutionary change in 2011 with the title Evolution: A View from the 21st Century.

Shapiro had come to nearly identical conclusions as Henry, before Henry did, but from a completely different vantage point. As Shapiro began comparing notes with Henry, he realized:

“Most people think of evolutionary biology as (hopefully) providing lessons to cancer biologists. But cancer may well have more to teach us about evolution than traditional evolutionary studies!”

The lessons may also arrive much faster. Because a handful of cancer cells can explode into 1000+ species in a matter of weeks. Cancer is “time compression” for an evolutionary biologist.

Evolution is the key to cancer… and cancer is the key to evolution.

This is why I’ve teamed up with a group of world class scientists including Henry Heng, James Shapiro, Denis Noble, Azra Raza and Bruker CEO Frank Laukien. We are bringing the best cancer renegades together with the best “new school” evolution researchers. We’re organizing the first conference in history to specifically focus on high-speed mechanisms of biological evolution as they relate to cancer biology and therapies.

This is an interdisciplinary conference bringing together scientists from a dozen fields, from Harvard, Yale, MIT, Oxford, Johns Hopkins, Columbia and MD Anderson. We are re-thinking cancer biology at a high level.

The Zoom conference takes place October 14-16. Not only will we provide 3 half-days of intensive discussion and discovery, many of the speakers will be hosting live Q&A in subsequent weeks.

Register here:


Perry Marshall

NASA Jet Propulsion Labs uses his 80/20 Curve as a productivity tool. His reinvention of the Pareto Principle is published in Harvard Business Review. His Ultimate Guide to Google Ads is the best-selling book on internet advertising. A business strategist and electrical engineer, Perry founded the largest science research award in history. The $10 million Evolution 2.0 Prize will be judged by scientists from Harvard, Oxford, and MIT. Seeing that existing financial incentives favor prolonging cancer rather than curing it; and realizing the medical profession has incorrectly defined the disease in the first place... he chose to apply entrepreneurial thinking to the problem.


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