Berkeley -- A University of California, Berkeley, scientist is challenging one of the central tenets of cancer research, that cancer results from a chance series of genetic mutations that drive a cell into wild, uncontrolled growth.
Molecular biologist Peter Duesberg, better known for his claim that the human immunodeficiency virus is not the cause of AIDS, contends that mutation is not the cause of cancer. Rather, he says, cancer results from disruption of the normal number of chromosomes in a cell, primarily duplication of one or more chromosomes.
Called aneuploidy, this type of chromosomal abnormality is found in nearly every solid cancer studied to date, but has always been considered a side effect of cancer, not the cause itself.
In a peer-reviewed article in the March 28 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Duesberg and his colleagues at UC Berkeley argue instead that aneuploidy is the primary cause of cancer and explains many aspects of cancer that the genetic mutation theory cannot.
For some 25 years, Duesberg has pointed out problems with the genetic mutation theory of cancer. Now that the theory has become almost dogma, he is ratcheting up his criticism and receiving support from numerous other scientists
"Peter won't let the field stand still, which is extremely important," said Avery A. Sandberg, chief editor of the journal Cancer Genetics and Cytogenetics. "Once scientists think of one theory as being the de facto theory, we're in great trouble."
If Duesberg is right, it would overthrow a theory that has dominated thinking for the past 15 years, guiding research and dictating how doctors detect and prevent cancer. One field that would feel the impact is cancer screening.
"Rather than looking for mutations in biopsied cells, we should look for aneuploidy as a sign of early cancer," said Duesberg, a professor of molecular and cell biology.