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Key Points About The Cell Cycle And Cancer

1713 words - 7 pages

For 5/6 of the history of life, all life was unicellular, and went through the cell cycle on a regular basis. As soon as enough growth had occurred, the cell would begin the "S" phase, eventually leading to mitosis and cell division.Between 600 and 400 million years ago, some eukaryotes became multicellular (animals, plants, fungi). Most of their cells now divide only a limited number of times before pausing in "G1" and specializing. These cells, all formed by mitosis, are genetic clones of the zygote and of all the stem cells that do not specialize. They still have all the genes necessary to move the cell into "S", but these genes are shut off.CausesCancers occur when genes for cell division that should be inactive become activated. This generally occurs when controller genes mutate and stop inhibiting the cell division genes. Typically, several mutations must occur in a single cell before the cell begins to divide out of control.Sometimes cells with one or more such mutations will look or behave differently from normal specialized cells, or will react differently to chemical tests. This may indicate a higher probability of a cell becoming cancerous in the future. Such cells are called precancerous. Many screening tests look for precancerous cells.Mutations are errors in the information coded in DNA. While errors can occur at any time if the DNA is damaged, they are much more likely during the "S" phase when the double helix of DNA is "unzipped" for copying. At such times, the cell's proofreading and correction system is less efficient because it cannot compare the damaged strand of DNA to its complementary strand. As a result, cells that divide frequently are much more likely to accumulate mutations and become cancerous. Thus, cancers are most common in tissues such as skin, blood stem cells, lymph nodes, the epithelium lining many organs and ducts, such as the lungs, intestines, breasts, uterus and cervix, and reproductive organs such as the testes, ovaries and prostate. They are very rare in cells that divide infrequently, such as muscles and nerves.The damage to DNA may occur simply by chance (i.e. a copying mistake), or it may be caused by a variety external factors. UV radiation (mainly from the sun) and ionizing radiation (from radioactive materials, X-rays) can break chemical bonds in DNA. So can certain toxic chemicals (called mutagens) that react with DNA, such as benzene, carbon tetrachloride, some pesticides. (The more we look, the more we find that many substances can affect DNA to some degree, giving rise to the popular complaint that "everything causes cancer".) Byproducts of our own metabolism called free radicals can also interact with DNA. We all make these free radicals, though some foods, such as fatty foods, produce more. We all have chemical systems for "mopping them up", but some manage to slip by the defenses. Finally, viruses, which insert themselves into the DNA, can sometimes interrupt critical sequences of information...

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