In spite of their multitude and obvious clinical diversities, cancer and other chronic degenerative diseases may share common risk factors and protective factors as well as common pathogenetic determinants, such as DNA damage and repair, epigenetic events, oxidative stress, and chronic inflammation. We applied the same biomarkers that are usually exploited in cancer research to investigate genomic and post-genomic alterations occurring during critical periods of life, such as pregnancy, the perinatal period, and aging. Molecular and cellular alterations were detected in cancers associated with chronic viral infections, physical agents, individual chemicals or complex mixtures, as well as in other chronic diseases, including atherosclerosis, degenerative heart diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, skin alopecia, ocular diseases, and neurodegenerative disorders. Not only DNA damage and repair but also alterations of the microtubule-associated protein tau, which are involved in Alzheimer’s disease, were detected in cigarette smoke-related neurodegeneration. The proliferation rate is the main factor that affects the possible evolution towards a given disease. In fact, the aforementioned pathogenetic mechanisms may evolve (a) into cancer when they occur in highly proliferating cells, (b) into atherosclerotic plaques when they occur in the smooth muscle cells of the artery medium layer, and (c) into genuinely degenerative diseases when they occur in perennial, postmitotic cells, such as cardiac myocytes and neurons, being thus associated with cardiomyopathies and neurodegenerative diseases, respectively.


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  • Received: 12 May 2012
  • Accepted: 12 May 2012
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