Hochberg, M. E.,Noble, R. J.
Evolutionary theory explains why metazoan species are largely protected against the negative fitness effects of cancers. Nevertheless, cancer is often observed at high incidence across a range of species. Although there are many challenges to quantifying cancer epidemiology and assessing its causes, we claim that most modern-day cancer in animals - and humans in particular - are due to environments deviating from central tendencies of distributions that have prevailed during cancer resistance evolution. Such novel environmental conditions may be natural and/or of anthropogenic origin, and may interface with cancer risk in numerous ways, broadly classifiable as those: increasing organism body size and/or life span, disrupting processes within the organism, and affecting germline. We argue that anthropogenic influences, in particular, explain much of the present-day cancer risk across life, including in humans. Based on a literature survey of animal species and a parameterised mathematical model for humans, we suggest that combined risks of all cancers in a population beyond c. 5% can be explained to some extent by the influence of novel environments. Our framework provides a basis for understanding how natural environmental variation and human activity impact cancer risk, with potential implications for species ecology.