The lesser known analogy of soil, seed and cancer

By Ushanandini Mohanraj

I felt stagnant as there was nothing new left about cancer that we already are not aware about. Fortunately today I stumbled upon this interesting “seed and soil hypothesis” in cancer research which sparked my enthusiasm to write about it. So what is the relationship between seed, soil and cancer?

For a plant to grow, it is not the seed itself that matters but the soil. Even with a good quality seed, a nutrient deficient soil will not yield fruit.  Similarly, according to Stephen Paget, the spreading of tumors to other places in the body, “metastasis,” does not occur randomly. Instead tumor cells, which have dislodged from their initial mass, only grow in a distant organ if that organ offers the right soil. Thus young and healthy microenvironments can prevent cancer. Meanwhile damaged soil (I mean tissues) can facilitate tumor development by cells that would not form a tumor otherwise.

Just because you got the gene for cancer, its not mandatory that you will be affected by cancer. For example, a large fraction of women carrying a mutation in the BRCA gene will not develop breast cancer. On the other hand, women without obvious genetic abnormalities may still get the disease. Oops!

So if tissues play such important role in cancer, then why are there not enough treatments targeting the soil than the seed? According to Claudia Fischbach, associate professor at Cornell University , “The number of research articles describing findings related to the tumor microenvironment is 34 times lower than the number of articles on tumor genetics”.

Maybe we need to look from a different perspective for efficient cancer treatments.




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