The integration of evolutionary and developmental approaches into the field of evolutionary developmental biology has opened new areas of inquiry— from understanding the evolution of development and its underlying genetic and molecular mechanisms to addressing the role of development in evolution. For the last several decades, the terms ‘evolution’ and ‘development’ have been increasingly linked to cancer, in many different frameworks and contexts. This mini-review, as part of a special issue on Evolutionary Developmental Biology, discusses the main areas in cancer research that have been addressed through the lenses of both evolutionary and developmental biology, though not always fully or explicitly integrated in an evo-devo framework. First, it briefly introduces the current views on carcinogenesis that invoke evolutionary and/or developmental perspectives. Then, it discusses the main mechanisms proposed to have specifically evolved to suppress cancer during the evolution of multicellularity. Lastly, it considers whether the evolution of multicellularity and development was shaped by the threat of cancer (a cancer-evo-devo perspective), and/or whether the evolution of developmental programs and life history traits can shape cancer resistance/risk in various lineages (an evo-devo-cancer perspective). A proper evolutionary developmental framework for cancer, both as a disease and in terms of its natural history (in the context of the evolution of multicellularity and development as well as life history traits), could bridge the currently disparate evolutionary and developmental perspectives and uncover aspects that will provide new insights for cancer prevention and treatment.

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