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book cover of "The Cheating Cell"
March 2020
Princeton University Press

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The Cheating Cell

How Evolution Helps Us Understand and Treat Cancer
Athena Aktipis
Illustrated by: 
Alex Cagan

"The Cheating Cell" is a book about a new way of looking at cancer. It is about the fundamental evolutionary and ecological underpinnings of the disease. And it is also a book about the ways that cancer is entwined with our very existence as multicellular organisms. We are essentially made of cellular cooperation. Each of us is a cooperative cellular society of about 30 trillion cells descended from the fertilized cell that gave rise to us. In a healthy body, these cells cooperate to make us function effectively as multicellular organisms. But sometimes this cellular cooperation can break down, and when it does, cancer can arise.

In "The Cheating Cell," Aktipis explains the many ways that cellular cheating can arise and how this cellular cheating can evolve in the ecosystem of the body. She also takes a look at how our bodies have evolved (because of selection among organisms for better cancer suppression system) to deal with the threat of cellular cheating. She ends the book by showing how new evolutionarily-informed approaches to cancer hold the promise for changing how we treat cancer and helping us to live longer and more fulfilling lives even with a diagnosis of the disease.


Athena Aktipis is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University, co-director of the Human Generosity Project and director of the Interdisciplinary Cooperation Initiative at ASU. She studies how systems effectively scale up cooperation and avoid being undermined by cheating.

Praise for this book

“The Cheating Cell" is an instant classic — a book that will transform how physicians and their patients understand cancer, how investigators develop therapies and how we as a society can work together to reduce the global burden of this disease. Masterful, powerful and absolutely essential reading for anyone who truly wants to understand the nature of cancer, "The Cheating Cell" is a tour de force.

Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, MD
coauthor of "Zoobiquity"

The one book to read for a true understanding of cancer and its control.

David Sloan Wilson
author of "This View of Life"