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Kinetics of cancer: a method to test hypotheses of genetic causation

Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license


Mouse studies have recently compared the age-onset patterns of cancer between different genotypes. Genes associated with earlier onset are tentatively assigned a causal role in carcinogenesis. These standard analyses ignore the great amount of information about kinetics contained in age-onset curves. We present a method for analyzing kinetics that measures quantitatively the causal role of candidate genes in cancer progression. We use our method to demonstrate a clear association between somatic mutation rates of different DNA mismatch repair (MMR) genotypes and the kinetics of cancer progression.


Most experimental studies report age-onset curves as the fraction diagnosed with tumors at each age for each group. We use such data to estimate smoothed survival curves, then measure incidence rates at each age by the slope of the fitted curve divided by the fraction of mice that remain undiagnosed for tumors at that age. With the estimated incidence curves, we compare between different genotypes the median age of cancer onset and the acceleration of cancer, which is the rate of increase in incidence with age.


The direction of change in somatic mutation rate between MMR genotypes predicts the direction of change in the acceleration of cancer onset in all 7 cases (p ˜ 0.008), with the same result for the association between mutation rate and the median age of onset.


Many animal experiments compare qualitatively the onset curves for different genotypes. If such experiments were designed to analyze kinetics, the research could move to the next stage in which the mechanistic consequences of particular genetic pathways are related to the dynamics of carcinogenesis. The data we analyzed here were not collected to test mechanistic and quantitative hypotheses about kinetics. Even so, a simple reanalysis revealed significant insights about how DNA repair genotypes affect separately the age of onset and the acceleration of cancer. Our method of comparing genotypes provides good statistical tests even with small samples for each genotype.

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