Etiologic field effect: reappraisal of the field effect concept in cancer predisposition and progression

Paul Lochhead, Andrew T Chan, Reiko Nishihara, Charles S Fuchs, Andrew H Beck, Edward Giovannucci, Shuji Ogino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

142 Citations (Scopus)


The term 'field effect' (also known as field defect, field cancerization, or field carcinogenesis) has been used to describe a field of cellular and molecular alteration, which predisposes to the development of neoplasms within that territory. We explore an expanded, integrative concept, 'etiologic field effect', which asserts that various etiologic factors (the exposome including dietary, lifestyle, environmental, microbial, hormonal, and genetic factors) and their interactions (the interactome) contribute to a tissue microenvironmental milieu that constitutes a 'field of susceptibility' to neoplasia initiation, evolution, and progression. Importantly, etiological fields predate the acquisition of molecular aberrations commonly considered to indicate presence of filed effect. Inspired by molecular pathological epidemiology (MPE) research, which examines the influence of etiologic factors on cellular and molecular alterations during disease course, an etiologically focused approach to field effect can: (1) broaden the horizons of our inquiry into cancer susceptibility and progression at molecular, cellular, and environmental levels, during all stages of tumor evolution; (2) embrace host-environment-tumor interactions (including gene-environment interactions) occurring in the tumor microenvironment; and, (3) help explain intriguing observations, such as shared molecular features between bilateral primary breast carcinomas, and between synchronous colorectal cancers, where similar molecular changes are absent from intervening normal colon. MPE research has identified a number of endogenous and environmental exposures which can influence not only molecular signatures in the genome, epigenome, transcriptome, proteome, metabolome and interactome, but also host immunity and tumor behavior. We anticipate that future technological advances will allow the development of in vivo biosensors capable of detecting and quantifying 'etiologic field effect' as abnormal network pathology patterns of cellular and microenvironmental responses to endogenous and exogenous exposures. Through an 'etiologic field effect' paradigm, and holistic systems pathology (systems biology) approaches to cancer biology, we can improve personalized prevention and treatment strategies for precision medicine.Modern Pathology advance online publication, 13 June 2014; doi:10.1038/modpathol.2014.81.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-29
Number of pages16
JournalModern pathology : an official journal of the United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology, Inc
Issue number1
Early online date13 Jun 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015


  • Cancer
  • Epidemiology
  • Pathogenesis


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