Cancer Cell Definition
A cancer cell is an undeveloped, healthy cell that has developed DNA mutations. These mutations cause tumour cells to proliferate in an unregulated, repetitive way, leading to non-specialized daughter cells that are equally mutated and remain to proliferate. The sole abnormal function of tumour cells is to develop and reproduce. If cancer cells proliferate over an extended period of time, hard tumours and/or blood malignancies form.
How Does a Normal Cell Become a Cancer Cell?
One or more mutations in the DNA cause a cancer cell to grow from a normal cell. Our DNA is wrapped and replicated into chromosomes, which are only partly shielded from the environment. While a single mutation may have little impact, the older we become, the more irregular mutations we inherit from our parents, or the worse our lifestyle, the more mutations we acquire.
Within “switched on” cells, each coding gene delivers instructions for producing a specific protein. Proteins are essential in our bodies since they make up all of our tissues as well as the chemical messengers that keep the body running, such as neurotransmitters, hormones, and chemokines. Proteins serve as chemical messenger receptors on the exterior of cell membranes. Although every cell (save the anucleate red blood cell) carries the instructions to generate them, not every cell has the same receptors. For a certain protein to be created, a coding gene must be turned on or ‘expressed’ in a cell.
Noncoding DNA, or sections of the DNA that do not code for protein synthesis, may turn gene expression on or off depending on cell type, organism age, and even the season or time of day.
Adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine are the four proteins that make up our DNA code. These lettered sequences may be read and their instructions followed outside the nucleus. Any one of these four unique proteins may be reshuffled if the DNA is broken and subsequently repaired. In most cases, this has little impact on cell function.
However, one little change in a cell’s DNA gets passed down to succeeding generations of daughter cells. Larger parts of DNA damage may affect the DNA code if one or more of these cells also suffer DNA damage with defective repair. Perhaps different proteins, or no proteins, or too many, or too few, are produced. Perhaps the incorrect cells begin to create incorrect or defective proteins.
Cancer cells form when cell proliferation is disrupted, which includes alterations in cell division, maturation, division, and death.
When the DNA of a normal cell is broken in such a manner that the cell’s growth cycle is altered, the cell becomes cancerous. A cancer cell is a non-functioning cell that does not die when it should and instead divides, passing on its defective DNA to daughter cancer cells. The cancer cell’s philosophy is growth for the sake of growth.
The cause of the DNA mutation is the factor that changes a normal cell into a cancer cell. Rarely is there a single reason. A lack of antioxidants in the diet, working in an asbestos industry without protection, chronic inflammation, tanning without sunscreen, and genetic mutations are all possible causes.
Gene Variant Causes
Gene variations are divided into two categories (mutations). These may be inherited or acquired. Some are beneficial to our health. There would be no variety of species without mutations. DNA damage, on the other hand, might have negative consequences.
Inherited gene mutations are handed down through generations; for example, a newborn born to two parents with type one diabetes has a nearly one-in-two risk of developing the hereditary form of diabetes. De novo mutations occur in certain inherited gene mutations. The mutation happens in the father’s sperm or the mother’s egg, and the gene variation is passed on to every cell of the developing embryo during fertilisation. Symptoms may not appear until later in life if the gene variation is found in proteins that develop later in life, such as certain hormones during puberty.
At the moment, there isn’t much that can be done to avoid inherited gene variations. The use of genetic engineering to modify genes at the earliest stages of embryo development creates a complex web of ethical considerations that has kept this field of research confined to the laboratory so far. Although hereditary cancer is uncommon, inherited cancer syndromes increase the risk of some malignancies. Ovarian cancer, for example, is common in girls born into families with the gene for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome. People whose parents carry the genetic non-polyposis colorectal cancer gene, for example, have an increased risk of colon tumours.
Non-inherited gene mutations occur throughout our lives and only impact specific cells, which may be found across the body or in the same tissue. Although a mutation or gene variation does not necessarily result in cancer, it might result in sickness over time. An issue may emerge when future generations of cells divide to develop the variation of the original cell.
Non-inherited gene mutations have a variety of reasons. Inhaling asbestos dust, as well as cigarette smoke, radon gas, and soot, may harm lung cells’ DNA. All of them are carcinogenic, meaning they have the potential to cause cancer.
Because of a chronic inflammatory condition, obesity raises the risk of colorectal, esophageal, renal, and pancreatic cancer. Infections may also damage DNA, which can contribute to the creation of cancer cells. Remember that cancer cells are merely altered cells that develop uncontrollably.
Non-ionizing radiation such as ultraviolet light and x-rays may destroy DNA bonds. When DNA is repaired improperly or radiation exposure persists, a cancer cell is more likely to form. The bigger the region of exposure, the more cancer cells are generated. Stronger, non-ionizing radiation, such as that used in CT scans or as cancer therapy, is considerably less likely to induce gene variations.
Another carcinogen is alcohol, which damages the DNA of cells in the digestive system, airways, and liver over time. This is mostly due to the carcinogen acetaldehyde, which is formed when alcohol is broken down.
Those who believe that drinking tea is the safest option should know that drinking really hot liquids regularly burns oesophageal cells and damages their DNA. Faulty mutations in the scalded DNA may develop during nitrogenous base repair.
The current list of known mutagens is much too vast for this page to cover. No mutagen is predictable in terms of exposure duration, age, other risk variables, or cell division time. Although not all smokers or morbidly obese people acquire cancer, a higher percentage of these groups do than nonsmokers or those with a low BMI.
Cancer Cell Cycle
The cancer cell cycle follows the same pathways as normal cells, but it is uncontrolled. The cell cycle in mammals comprises five stages.
Interphases, which last at least 12 hours, occur between stages of cell division. These “resting” stages, often known as gap phases, are really times of intensive protein production. Divided cells require proteins to become large enough to divide. Gaps 0, 1, and 2 occur four times every cycle, as well as the synthesis (S) phase.
The cell is regarded as out of the cycle at Gap 0 (G0). This is the only “relaxing” period. Our non-coding DNA determines how long a cell stays in this resting state. Non-replicating cells do not divide either temporarily or permanently (quiescent cells) (senescent cells).
Cells grow bigger and manufacture more proteins during Gap 1 (G1). A G1/S checkpoint guarantees that the cell is ready to proceed to the next phase of growth, synthesis.
The cell must copy its DNA during the synthesis phase (S), since it will divide into two daughter cells. To survive, each daughter cell must have a complete set of chromosomes.
Gap 2 (G2) marks the conclusion of DNA replication and the beginning of a new stage in which the cell produces more proteins and has another opportunity to increase in size. A last checkpoint guarantees that the cell is prepared to divide. This happens during the M phase.
The cell stops growing during the mitotic (M) phase and utilises its energy to divide into two daughter cells that are similar. Prophase, prometaphase, metaphase, anaphase, telophase, and cytokinesis are all part of the M phase. In mammals, mitosis lasts just an hour or two and contains a metaphase checkpoint to verify that everything is in order.
When threshold anomalies are identified, a healthy cell will ordinarily undergo apoptosis and self-destruct.
On the other hand, tumour cell division violates the regulatory thresholds’ rules. Most cancers contain gene mutations in the genes that code for cell cycle regulatory proteins. In more than 60% of cancers, the p53 protein has been revealed to be faulty. Other regulatory molecules, like cyclin-dependent kinases, attach to cyclin-like proteins and, as a consequence, start or stop the cycle.
A cancer cell cycle image would show checkpoint, growth, division, and cell death (apoptosis) abnormalities.
Any gene that disrupts regulatory protein synthesis may result in ongoing cell division and a damaged cell’s incapacity to self-destruct. A snowball effect happens when all daughter cells inherit the same DNA.
Cancer cells do not grow faster than normal cells, but they do not self-destruct and do not divide indefinitely. Other cancer cells divide and expand properly, but survive for significantly longer periods of time than normal.
Cancer Cell Vs Normal Cell
The distinction between a normal cell and a cancer cell may be seen in a variety of ways. Normal cells replicate in response to DNA regulatory signals. While virtually all of our cells carry the DNA code that codes for the whole human body, only a subset of that information is accessible to each group at any one moment.
The DNA code for creating insulin is found in every white blood cell, but this code – the insulin-producing gene – is only activated in the pancreas’ beta cells. The insulin-producing gene is expressed by the beta-cell. This gene is not expressed in white blood cells.
Protein synthesis is controlled by regulatory genes. While coding DNA makes all of the proteins needed to make the body’s cells, tissues, and organs, non-coding DNA informs cells when and how much to make. Gene expression also determines when a cell divides, develops, and stops growing.
Mutations in cancer cells either prevent particular proteins from being created or prevent regulatory genes from functioning correctly. A proto-oncogene is a gene that is involved in normal cell development and division.
Cancer cells continue to divide and develop. Instead, one or more of their proto-oncogenes mutate into oncogenes, which are DNA sequence alterations that lead to cancer formation. This generally happens when the cell produces too many proto-oncogenes. As seen in the figure below, new cancer treatments aim to limit cancer cell growth by targeting these cells.
Another set of proteins known as growth factors is another mechanism that controls cell development and death. Cells contain a variety of growth factor receptors that inform them when to proliferate, develop, and die. Any of the approximately 30,000 genes in the human genome may be altered when a cell’s DNA mutates to become cancerous. A cell may acquire more or fewer growth factor receptors, be unable to interpret the signals, or improperly grasp the instructions. This causes cell growth to be erratic.
Cells whose DNA has been broken beyond repair are told to self-destruct (apoptosis). Normal cells depend on certain proteins to perform ongoing DNA health checks. These genes are known as tumor-suppressor genes because they prevent mutant daughter cells from continuing the cancer cell cycle by killing the parent cell. Cancer cell tumours may arise without tumour suppressor proteins.
Other genes that create cell-adhesion molecules, or CAMs, are often modified (mutated) as a result of pollution, radiation, unhealthy lifestyles, and any of the myriad risk factors for cancer cell formation. Large clumps of normal cells clump together to form tissues such as bone, liver, skin, and muscle. Cancer cells that have CAM-producing gene alterations no longer adhere to their tissue type. This is the foundation of metastasis, or the spread of cancer cells via the blood or lymphatic system. As metastatic cancer cells, these cells may spread to other organs such as the lungs, brain, or liver.
An additional contrast among tumour cells and healthy cells is cell differentiation. When a cell becomes specialised, it becomes proficient at carrying out its given function. A beta cell produces insulin, a muscle cell relaxes and contracts, and a white blood cell defends the body against germs and viruses. Cancer cells never develop because they have no specialisation. All cancer cells are abnormal.
A normal cell and a cancerous cell have different physical characteristics. Cancer cells do not all have the same shape and function as the cells they were created to be. A cancer cell’s nucleus has membrane blebs, which may be seen as “bulges.” Scientists are currently investigating why the nucleus of cancer cells seems aberrant.
Cancer research is progressing, but it is still one of the world’s leading causes of death, with lung and colon cancers topping the list. Cancer cell lines are studied by multiplying one cancer cell over time in a laboratory setting. These lines may be investigated in order to learn more about how cancer originates and to evaluate a rising number of updated and novel cancer therapies.
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- Ruddon RW. What Makes a Cancer Cell a Cancer Cell? In: Kufe DW, Pollock RE, Weichselbaum RR, et al., editors. Holland-Frei Cancer Medicine. 6th edition. Hamilton (ON): BC Decker; 2003. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK12516/