Age-specific incidence of cancer: Phases, transitions, and biological implications.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Volume 105, Issue 42, p.16284-9 (2008)


2008, Age Distribution, Biology, Female, Humans, Male, Neoplasms, Public Health Sciences Division, Sex Characteristics, Time Factors


The observation that the age-specific incidence curve of many carcinomas is approximately linear on a double logarithmic plot has led to much speculation regarding the number and nature of the critical events involved in carcinogenesis. By a consideration of colorectal and pancreatic cancers in the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) registry we show that the log-log model provides a poor description of the data, and that a much better description is provided by a multistage model that predicts two basic phases in the age-specific incidence curves, a first exponential phase until the age of approximately 60 followed by a linear phase after that age. These two phases in the incidence curve reflect two phases in the process of carcinogenesis. Paradoxically, the early-exponential phase reflects events between the formation (initiation) of premalignant clones in a tissue and the clinical detection of a malignant tumor, whereas the linear phase reflects events leading to initiated cells that give rise to premalignant lesions because of abrogated growth/differentiation control. This model is consistent with Knudson's idea that renewal tissue, such as the colon, is converted into growing tissue before malignant transformation. The linear phase of the age-specific incidence curve represents this conversion, which is the result of recessive inactivation of a gatekeeper gene, such as the APC gene in the colon and the CDKN2A gene in the pancreas.