Why Cancer Research?
This seems a good companion piece to Wednesday's entry about four genetically distinct types of breast cancer. Virtually everything that we know about cancer and its treatment is the result of painstakingly difficult research. If you follow this at all, you know that the more we know, the more complex a puzzle it becomes. Especially as we near October (the dreaded Breast-Cancer-Awareness-Everything-Turns-Pink month), I hear a lot from people with other cancers who are resentful of all the attention and money spent on breast cancer research. I always remind them that cancer research is usually not too discreet. That is, findings made by someone exploring the genetics of pancreatic cancer may turn out to be really helpful for people with lung cancer. Breast cancer funding helps all cancer patients. That being said, I fully understand the expressed frustration and wish, too, that October (if the cancer focus has to happen at all) would be about everyone dealing with this disease.
This is an excellent summary from AACR (American Association for Cancer Research) about the state of the research community:
Why Cancer Research?
Research is our best defense against cancer. The Nation's investments in cancer research and biomedical science during the past four-plus decades have produced remarkable progress in our understanding of the events which initiate a number of cancers at the molecular, cellular and tissue levels. Advances in cancer research are now transforming patient care. We would not be on our current path to revolutionizing cancer care if not for the extraordinary endeavors of individuals working in numerous research disciplines and technologies.
Today, we know that because cancer is extremely heterogeneous, it is in fact not a single disease, but likely cosists of over 200 diseases. Further, we are beginning to understand that due to this heterogeneity, nearly all cancers are comprised of a number of different cancer subtypes, meaning that every person's cancer is unique in its composition. Despite the apparent complexity that this diversity brings, decades of research have established that there are a number of basic biological principles that underpin cancer initiation, growth and spread to other sites in the body.
One of the most fundamental traits of cancer cells is their ability to multiply uncontrollably. Normal cells only proliferate when the balance of numerous factors instructs them to do so, by progressing through a process called the cell cycle. Various inputs determine whether or not a cell will enter this cycle; these include the balance of growth-stimulating and growth- suppressing factors; the energy state of the cell, including nutrient and oxygen levels; and the status of the environment that surrounds the cell, called the microenvironment. This biological system is dysfunctional in cancer cells.
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