The human body depends on the ability of cells to reproduce to restore the cells that are lost and damaged through injury, disease and normal body processes. Cells usually have all the information contained within them to provide the right kind of cells for the right purpose. When information within the cells becomes damaged and unpredictable, cancer occurs. Though much more is known than in previous decades about cancer and how it grows, this disease still has many more mysteries that must be solved before it is conquered.
What Is Cancer?
The word “cancer” is actually a name used for a group of 100 diseases that behave and progress in a similar manner. Cancer is a complex disease that occurs when cells start to divide uncontrollably, producing growths and tumors that damage surrounding tissue. The genes within the nucleus of cells that control the growth of cells can become damaged by external forces or forces within genes themselves. Sometimes, the damage to the DNA that causes cancer is obvious, such as smoking, sun exposure or exposure to toxins. Other times, there is no known reason for the DNA damage.
The Mechanism of Cancer
Usually, the cells repair the damage in the DNA or die off, but when certain factors are right, uncontrolled growth can occur. Sometimes, the uncontrolled cells stay in place, forming a tumor. At other times, the damaged cells circulate through the body, causing a variety of problems along the way. Cancer cells may also start replicating wildly and break off, flowing through the bloodstream to damage other sites in the body. This spreading process is known as “metastasis.” Through metastasis, cancer cells can travel far from where the disease originated, settling in new sites and reproducing extensively, then breaking off again to wander to yet more sites. How cancer cells grow and spread is a subject of study in laboratories all over the world. Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research in the United Kingdom have discovered that cancer cells spread through two different shapes of cells, a round type and an elongated type, that allows them to move through the body.
Stopping Cancer Growth
The essence of cancer treatment is to stop the cells that are causing the problem from replicating. Preventing them from reproducing is done with radiation, chemotherapy and sometimes surgery. This process often involves cutting off the blood supply to the cells so that they cannot reproduce and grow. With surgery, visible cancerous cells are removed as much as possible. The area is then treated with chemotherapy or radiation to destroy any remaining cells. New drugs that prevent the cells from replicating are constantly under development for use in cancer treatments.
Medical research scientists work continuously to understand the mechanism of different kinds of cancer cells and try to find the “key” that can stop them from reproducing.