What is Cancer?- Chapter 1- Cancer Education Series


Cancer, in simple words is a nothing but an abnormal growth of our own body cells. Let’s first understand what is normal growth and abnormal growth of cells and what triggers such an abnormal growth occurs in our body.

Our cells die and regenerate in a continuous process, making new cells. This process is called a 'Cell Cycle'. The cell cycle is systematically regulated by a set of genes. These genes check and ensure that the cell cycle should proceed in a regulated and uninterrupted manner, not allowing anything to go haywire.

The cells transform into a cancerous form if there is a mutation in these genes, leading to unregulated cell cycle. One of these cells escapes the check mechanism guarded by a particular gene and goes on multiplying in an abnormal manner, at a very high rate of multiplication that our body cannot control or regularize.

One of the important genes in cell cycle is P53 gene, called as ‘ Guardian of a Genome’. It is fascinating to know that human being has two copies of p53 genes. Deletion of one copy of this gene will be responsible for cancer genesis. As against humans, an elephant has 21 copies of p53 gene, which makes it very less susceptible to the cancer.

Now an obvious question one may ask is; "Why Genes Get Mutated?"

There are various reasons to it. One of the prime reasons is ageing. As we grow older, our body’s ability to repair the damaged cell also gets compromised and that leads to cancer genesis. There are some environmental and genetic factors to it as well. There are as set of genes which are called ‘Oncogenes’ (genes that cause cancer) and there are ‘Tumor Suppressor Genes’ (genes that prevent cancer). Any activating mutation in oncogenes or any deletion or de-activating mutation in tumor suppressor gene will lead to cancer.

In my next blog, I will enunciate on what are the properties of cancer cell and how it overcomes our body’s defense mechanism, to survive and grow in our body.

Dr. Akshay Shivchhand
Consultant Cancer Physician
Mumbai Oncocare, Kolhapur

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