Much has changed in our understanding of cancer since Hippocrates, in around 400BC, described a tumour, most likely of breast tissue, as resembling a crab and named it a 'cancer' (which is Latin for crab). Cancer is not a single disease. It is between 150 and 200 different diseases with a number of common biological properties that identify them as cancer.5, 15
Cancer can affect almost any type of cell. Theoretically, therefore, there are as many types of cancer as there are cell types in the human body. Although the location, behaviour and effect of each cancer type may vary, modern advances in biomedical research have identified the biological properties common to all cancer cells that distinguish them from healthy, normal cells. In addition, molecular genetic research has uncovered the role of specific genes and genetic mutations in the transformation of healthy cells to diseased cancer cells.5, 7, 15-17
The key biological capabilities that enable the multistep development of cancer include:18
- resisting cell death
- avoiding immune destruction
- evading growth suppressors
- deregulating cellular energetics
- sustaining proliferative signaling
- enabling replicative immortality
- genome instability and mutation
- inactivating invasion and metastasis
- tumour-promoting inflammation
- inducing angiogenesis.
Review Hallmarks of cancer: the next generation18 and outline an example of each of the characteristics of cancer cells.