Cancer is a chronic disease that invades the body and, once present, is capable of spreading at will. There are more than 100 different types of cancer, though each attacks the body in the same way. The complex biological processes that form this disease make finding a cure a difficult challenge.
Cancer is a disease that can develop within any tissue or organ of the body. According to the American Cancer Society, as many as 13 percent of the deaths in the U.S. are the result of cancer. It's a condition in which cell mutations form and multiply at a fast rate, and in many cases they can invade other areas of the body. While the exact cause of cancer remains unknown, there are certain genetic abnormalities, carcinogens and viral agents associated with its development.
Cancer cure treatments have been difficult to develop because of the way the disease develops within the body. Cancer takes root inside the genetic structures of a cell, and chromosomal instabilities give rise to mutations when cells begin to divide and multiply. Once a genetic abnormality is formed, cancer cells are able to multiply on their own without the normal controls imposed by the body, and tumors are formed from this rapid cell growth process. Part of the difficulty in curing the disease is developing a treatment capable of killing cancer cells without destroying healthy cells.
Cancer cell formations can develop to the point where nearby tissue structures become diseased. When this happens, a tumor is said to have metastasized, or invaded other regions of the body, which make finding a cure more difficult. Self-regulating signal pathways enable tumor cells to spread, so understanding what triggers these pathways is part of the challenge in developing targeted drug treatments. Current treatments rely on chemotherapy and radiation to eliminate diseased cells, but the genetic mechanisms within these cells can evolve and adapt to new conditions.
Cancer cell growth is the result of an altered gene structure within a normal cell. Normal genes may begin to multiply at unusually fast rates, or existing genetic mutations may possess abnormal properties that interfere with a cell's normal DNA replication process. DNA mechanisms designed to suppress tumor formations become disabled once cancer takes hold of a cell, placing its processes at the mercy of the cancer. Cellular changes can also become an issue in cases in which dormant or benign tumors have developed. To date, treatments have been unable to identify or stop the mechanism that allows cancer cells to evolve and become stronger.
Cancer research projects set out to understand the mechanism that promotes the growth of cancerous cells in hopes of slowing or eliminating the process that allows the disease to grow. Ongoing laboratory research involves finding ways to determine what types of cells are prone to develop genetic mutations and the types of conditions that trigger alterations within the cells. Drug treatments are then designed to target identified characteristics of the diseases. Numerous clinical trials are conducted to determine a drug's effects on cancer growth. As there are no effective cures for viruses, the viral behavior exhibited by cancer cells may account for the difficulty in finding a cure for cancer.
- Photo Credit Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Andrew Mason