Hallmarks Of Cancer: Avoidance Of Cell Death


In normal tissue there is a balance between the generation of new cells via cell division and the loss of cells through cell death. Old cells become damaged over time and then go through a process called apoptosis, or cell death. Apoptosis is a very orderly process in which the genome of the cell, all of its genetic information, is broken down, The cell is fragmented into smaller pieces and the debris is consumed by nearby cells that clean up the cell fragments (called phagocytic cells).

This process is normal and necessary for us to refresh our bodies with new and healthy cells. There are checkpoints built into the cell cycle that can recognize and eliminate the cells that are dividing in an abnormal way. These checkpoints are responsible for preventing the development of cancer, since cancer cells develop and divide in a different way than normal cells. Cancer cells that get past these checkpoints have can avoid the cell death signals triggered by their abnormal behavior. Avoidance of cell death, coupled with continued cell division leads to the growth of the tumor. Many of the chemotherapy drugs discussed in the Cancer Treatments section work by forcing the cancer cells to undergo apoptosis.

The process of apoptosis, including nuclear fragmentation and the formation of many small cell fragments, is shown in the animation below.

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