Two drastically different approaches to understanding the forces driving carcinogenesis have crystallized through years of research. These are the somatic mutation theory (SMT) and the tissue organization field theory (TOFT). The essence of SMT is that cancer is derived from a single somatic cell that has successively accumulated multiple DNA mutations, and that those mutations occur on genes which control cell proliferation and cell cycle. Thus, according to SMT, neoplastic lesions are the results of DNA-level events. Conversely, according to TOFT, carcinogenesis is primarily a problem of tissue organization: carcinogenic agents destroy the normal tissue architecture thus disrupting cell-to-cell signaling and compromising genomic integrity. Hence, in TOFT the DNA mutations are the effect, and not the cause, of the tissue-level events. Cardinal importance of successful resolution of the TOFT versus SMT controversy dwells in the fact that, according to SMT, cancer is a unidirectional and mostly irreversible disease; whereas, according to TOFT, it is curable and reversible. In this paper, our goal is to outline a plausible scenario in which TOFT and SMT can be reconciled using the framework and concepts of the self-organized criticality (SOC), the principle proven to be extremely fruitful in a wide range of disciplines pertaining to natural phenomena, to biological communities, to large-scale social developments, to technological networks, and to many other subjects of research.
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