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Making Cancer, and Making It Worse

On Pharyngula, PZ Myers says that cancer, unlike an infectious bacterium or virus, is not the product of millions of years of evolution. Instead, PZ writes, “Cancer misuses and perverts existing processes in your cells to send them out of control.” But what causes cancer? Well, it happens about 20,000 times a day in your body. Luckily, it is almost always repaired. It is the mutation of DNA during cell division. Just one base out of place, and suddenly the gene that made a protein to tightly regulate cell division is making a protein that encourages the cell to divide continually. Depending on what other mutations this cell line, by chance or carcinogen, accumulates, it can grow to destroy the body. PZ also explains the role of tumor suppressor genes, which generally stop uncontrolled cell division.  Sexual beings have two copies of every gene in their bodies, and for some cancers to be successful, both copies of a tumor suppressor gene must be knocked out.  On the other hand, new research at the Weizmann Institute suggests that for leukemia cells to proliferate, one copy of a cancer-causing gene must remain healthy even though the other must be mutated.  And on Respectful Insolence, Orac takes another look at the endless parade of cancer quackery in the media, in this case a talk-show host praising a doctor whose treatment regimen (including 150 pills per day and a coffee enema) appeared in a clinical trial to make pancreatic cancer patients die sooner.

Posted to the homepage on September 23, 2013.