Cancer is actually a general term that describes a large group of related diseases.1Every case of cancer is unique, with its own set of genetic changes and growth properties. Some cancers grow quickly while others can take years to become dangerous to the patient. The many differences between cases of cancer, even of the same organ (i.e. different cases of breast cancer), is one of the main reasons that treatment is so difficult.
Despite the differences between different types of cancer, all cancers DO share some common features, and these shared properties are the basis for many cancer treatments and research efforts. It is important to understand the basic, shared, features of cancer. This will allow for an understanding of detection, diagnosis and treatment options.
There are numerous changes that must occur for a normal cell to become a cancer cell. Additional changes are needed for that single cell to form a group of cancer cells, called a tumor, and then for that tumor to grow and spread. An excellent review article detailing a model of cancer growth and spread was written by Douglas Hanahan and Robert Weinberg. The information covered in the following page is detailed in their paper. Click on the links below to learn more about the 'Hallmarks of Cancer'.
Growth Without 'GO' Signals
Failure to Respond to 'STOP' Signals
Unlimited Number of Cell Divisions
Avoidance of Cell Death
Tissue Invasion and Metastasis
Physical Changes in Cancer Cells
Test yourself and see if you Know the Flow: Hallmarks of Cancer
More detailed information on these topics can be found in the Cancer Biology section of the site.