The Fundamentals of Cancer

Cancer, we now know, is a disease caused by the uncontrolled growth of a single cell. This growth is unleashed by mutations—changes in DNA that specifically affect genes that incite unlimited cell growth. In a normal cell, powerful genetic circuits regulate cell division and cell death. In a cancer cell, these circuits have been broken, unleashing a cell that cannot stop growing.

That this seemingly simple mechanism—cell growth without barriers—can lie at the heart of this grotesque and multifaceted illness is a testament to the unfathomable power of cell growth. Cell division allows us as organisms to grow, to adapt, to recover, to repair—to live. And distorted and unleashed, it allows cancer cells to grow, to flourish, to adapt, to recover, and to repair—to live at the cost of our living. Cancer cells grow faster, adapt better. They are more perfect versions of ourselves.

The secret to battling cancer, then, is to find means to prevent these mutations from occurring in susceptible cells, or to find means to eliminate the mutated cells without compromising normal growth. The conciseness of that statement belies the enormity of the task. Malignant growth and normal growth are so genetically intertwined that unbraiding the two might be one of the most significant scientific challenges faced by our species. Cancer is built into our genomes: the genes that unmoor normal cell division are not foreign to our bodies, but rather mutated, distorted versions of the very genes that perform vital cellular functions. And cancer is imprinted in our society: as we extend our life span as a species, we inevitably unleash malignant growth (mutations in cancer genes accumulate with aging; cancer is thus intrinsically related to age). If we seek immortality, then so, too, in a rather perverse sense, does the cancer cell.


It is a mutated cell, a renegade, the key is to keep it from mutating.

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Cancer (0.978315): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
DNA (0.857171): website | dbpedia | freebase | yago
Genetics (0.707203): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Mutation (0.690482): dbpedia | freebase
Cell division (0.683178): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Senescence (0.643396): website | dbpedia | freebase
DNA replication (0.622701): dbpedia | freebase
Gene expression (0.617895): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc

 The Emperor of All Maladies
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Mukherjee, Siddhartha (2011-02-08), The Emperor of All Maladies, HarperCollins UK, Retrieved on 2013-10-13
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  • Folksonomies: science