Cancer has affected the lives of each and every one of us alive today. Many people have know someone with cancer, yet even those who haven't have been bombarded with constant reminders of its terrible threat. Although cancer is often referred to as a single condition, it actually consists of more than 100 different diseases, all characterized by the uncontrolled growth, reproduction, and spread of abnormal body cells. All of these diseases are individually unique, yet the basic processes that produce cancers are very similar (Ruddon, 1995). The human body consists of over 30 trillion cells, living in a complex, interdependent harmony. They regulate each other's proliferation; normal cells reproduce only when instructed to do so by other cells in their vicinity. This constant collaboration ensures that each tissue maintains a certain size and function that is exactly what the body needs. Cancer cells, on the other hand, violate the entire process. Not only do they ignore the body's controls on proliferation, they possess the ability to invade nearby tissues, and may even metastasize -- migrate and form tumors in distant sites of the body. How do cancer cells achieve this? For decades, this question plagued scientists everywhere. But over the last 20 years, scientists have uncovered a set of basic principles that govern the development of cancer ( Brock, 1993).
Within each cell lies a structure called a nucleus which contains strips of material known as DNA (dioxyribonucleic acid.) Each of these strips is divided into hundreds of genes, which are the codes and templates for all the functions of the human body. Each gene specifies a sequence of amino acids that must be linked together...
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...onal 25% of cancer deaths could be prevented with earlier diagnosis and treatment (ACS homepage). However, one in three people in the United States will eventually develop some type of cancer, so routine screening for early detection should be an important part of everyone's lives (Ruddon, 1995). The earlier cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of it's being cured. Some cancers, such as breast and skin cancers, can be detected by routine self-examination before they become too serious, while others are only detected by more complicated methods. Either way, early diagnosis appears to be the key to survival.
Ruddon, Raymond W. 1995. Cancer Biology, 3rd ed.
New York: Oxford University Press.
Brock, D.J.H. 1993. Molecular Genetics for the Clinician. 1st ed.
New York: Cambridge University Press.
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