Research Perspectives:

Symmetry and symmetry breaking in cancer: a foundational approach to the cancer problem

J. James Frost _, Kenneth J. Pienta and Donald S. Coffey

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J. James Frost1, Kenneth J. Pienta2,3,4 and Donald S. Coffey2

1 Department of Radiology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA

2 James Buchanan Brady Urological Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA

3 Department of Medical Oncology, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Baltimore, MD, USA

4 Department of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA

Correspondence to:

J. James Frost, email:

Keywords: cancer; symmetry; symmetry-breaking; complexity; scale-free

Received: July 10, 2017 Accepted: November 01, 2017 Published: December 05, 2017


Symmetry and symmetry breaking concepts from physics and biology are applied to the problem of cancer. Three categories of symmetry breaking in cancer are examined: combinatorial, geometric, and functional. Within these categories, symmetry breaking is examined for relevant cancer features, including epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT); tumor heterogeneity; tensegrity; fractal geometric and information structure; functional interaction networks; and network stabilizability and attack tolerance. The new cancer symmetry concepts are relevant to homeostasis loss in cancer and to its origin, spread, treatment and resistance. Symmetry and symmetry breaking could provide a new way of thinking and a pathway to a solution of the cancer problem.

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