This is the updated version of Dr. Otto Warburg’s classic “The Metabolism of Tumours.” The updated version is in epub format, which is easier to read on smartphones and tablets. It also includes photos and a brief biography of Dr. Warburg.
In Dr. Warburg’s own words:
There are prime and secondary causes of diseases. For example, the prime cause of the plague is the plague bacillus, but secondary causes of the plague are filth, rats, and the fleas that transfer the plague bacillus from rats to man. By a prime cause of a disease I mean one that is found in every case of the disease...Cancer, above all other diseases, has countless secondary causes. But, even for cancer, there is only one prime cause. Summarized in a few words, the prime cause of cancer is the replacement of the respiration of oxygen in normal body cells by a fermentation of sugar. All normal body cells meet their energy needs by respiration of oxygen, whereas cancer cells meet their energy needs in great part by fermentation. All normal body cells are thus obligate aerobes, whereas all cancer cells are partial anaerobes. From the standpoint of the physics and chemistry of life this difference between normal and cancer cells is so great that one can scarcely picture a greater difference. Oxygen gas, the donor of energy in plants and animals is dethroned in the cancer cells and replaced by an energy yielding reaction of the lowest living forms, namely, a fermentation of glucose…
If a lowered oxygen pressure during cell growth may cause cancer, or, more generally, if any inhibition of respiration during growth may cause cancer, then a next problem is to show why reduced respiration induces cancer. Since we already know that with a lowering of respiration fermentation results, we can re- express our question: Why does cancer result if oxygen-respiration is replaced by fermentation?
The early history of life on our planet indicates that life existed on earth before the earth’s atmosphere contained free oxygen gas. The living cells must therefore have been fermenting cells then, and, as fossils show, they were undifferentiated single cells. Only when free oxygen appeared in the atmosphere - some billion years ago - did the higher development of life set in, to produce the plant and animal kingdoms from the fermenting, undifferentiated single cells. What the philosophers of life have called "Evolution créatrice" has been and is therefore the work of oxygen.
The reverse process, the dedifferentiation of life, takes place today in greatest amount before our eyes in cancer development, which is another expression for dedifferentiation. To be sure, cancer development takes place even in the presence of free oxygen gas in the atmosphere, but this oxygen may not penetrate in sufficient quantity into the growing body cells, or the respiratory apo-enzymes of the growing body cells may not be saturated with the active groups. In any case, during the cancer development the oxygen-respiration always falls, fermentation appears, and the highly differentiated cells are transformed to fermenting anaerobes, which have lost all their body functions and retain only the now useless property of growth. Thus, when respiration disappears, life does not disappear, but the meaning of life disappears, and what remains are growing machines that destroy the body in which they grow.