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  What is Cancer? What Causes Cancer?

Cancer is a class of diseases characterized by out-of-control cell growth. There are over 100 different types of cancer, and each is classified by the type of cell that is initially affected.

Cancer harms the body when damaged cells divide uncontrollably to form lumps or masses of tissue called tumors (except in the case of leukemia where cancer prohibits normal blood function by abnormal cell division in the blood stream). Tumors can grow and interfere with the digestive, nervous, and circulatory systems, and they can release hormones that alter body function. Tumors that stay in one spot and demonstrate limited growth are generally considered to be benign.

What causes cancer?

Cancer is ultimately the result of cells that uncontrollably grow and do not die. Normal cells in the body follow an orderly path of growth, division, and death. Programmed cell death is called apoptosis, and when this process breaks down, cancer begins to form. Unlike regular cells, cancer cells do not experience programmatic death and instead continue to grow and divide. This leads to a mass of abnormal cells that grows out of control.

Cells can experience uncontrolled growth if there are damages or mutations to DNA, and therefore, damage to the genes involved in cell division. Four key types of gene are responsible for the cell division process: oncogenes tell cells when to divide, tumor suppressor genes tell cells when not to divide, suicide genes control apoptosis and tell the cell to kill itself if something goes wrong, and DNA-repair genes instruct a cell to repair damaged DNA.

Cancer occurs when a cell's gene mutations make the cell unable to correct DNA damage and unable to commit suicide. Similarly, cancer is a result of mutations that inhibit oncogene and tumor suppressor gene function, leading to uncontrollable cell growth.


Anti-Cancer Drugs provides current information on the clinical and experimental effects of toxic and non-toxic cancer agents and is specifically directed towards breakthroughs in cancer treatment. Among the topics included are cytotoxic chemotherapy, hormonal or biological response modifiers such as interleukins, immunotherapy, drug design, adverse effects of drugs and drug resistance. Within the journal, strong emphasis is placed on papers reporting treatments to alleviate the side-effects of chemotherapy.


The available anticancer drugs have distinct mechanisms of action which may vary in their effects on different types of normal and cancer cells. A single "cure" for cancer has proved elusive since there is not a single type of cancer but as many as 100 different types of cancer. In addition, there are very few demonstrable biochemical differences between cancerous cells and normal cells. For this reason the effectiveness of many anticancer drugs is limited by their toxicity to normal rapidly growing cells in the intestinal and bone marrow areas. A final problem is that cancerous cells which are initially suppressed by a specific drug may develop a resistance to that drug. For this reason cancer chemotherapy may consist of using several drugs in combination for varying lengths of time.

Cancer Chemotherapy:

Chemotherapy drugs, are sometimes feared because of a patient's concern about toxic effects. Their role is to slow and hopefully halt the growth and spread of a cancer. There are three goals associated with the use of the most commonly-used anticancer agents.

1. Damage the DNA of the affected cancer cells.

2. Inhibit the synthesis of new DNA strands to stop the cell from replicating, because the replication of the cell is what allows the tumor to grow.

3. Stop mitosis or the actual splitting of the original cell into two new cells. Stopping mitosis stops cell division (replication) of the cancer and may ultimately halt the progression of the cancer.

Unfortunately, the majority of drugs currently on the market are not specific, which leads to the many common side effects associated with cancer chemotherapy. Because the common approach of all chemotherapy is to decrease the growth rate (cell division) of the cancer cells, the side effects are seen in bodily systems that naturally have a rapid turnover of cells iincluding skin, hair, gastrointestinal, and bone marrow. These healthy, normal cells, also end up damaged by the chemotherapy program.