Three things you probably didn’t know about cancer

One of the reasons why medical researchers haven’t been able to find a cure for cancer yet is the unpredictability of the disease.

Myupchar September 18, 2019 14:34:09 IST
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Three things you probably didn’t know about cancer
  • One of the reasons why medical researchers have not been able to find a cure for cancer yet is the unpredictability of the disease

  • Mutated helicases are responsible for the formation of cancer proteins and the development of resistance in cancer

  • Researchers claim to have found is the exact location of the mutation by crystallising the structure of an RNA helicase

Cancer is one of the biggest causes of mortality in the world. An estimated 9.6 million people are thought to have died of one or the other type of cancer in 2018 alone.

One of the reasons why medical researchers haven’t been able to find a cure for cancer yet is the unpredictability of the disease - for example, when and why do some cancers become malignant while others don’t?

Three things you probably didnt know about cancer

Representational image. Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Research is, of course, on across the world to understand cancer, and why and how it happens. Scientists are slowly uncovering its underlying mechanism, in the hope to find a cure soon. Here are some things medical researchers have figured out about cancer:

On the level of the molecules

Just this month, a research team led by Dr Rob van Montfort at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London, U.K., said that they had found one reason for the massive diversity and resistance in cancer cells - the qualities that make it so hard to beat cancer, and so easy to have a relapse.

To put this in context, scientists already knew that helicases — a type of protein — prepare the DNA and RNA (remember ribonucleic acids from class 8 biology?) to make other proteins. They also knew that mutated helicases are responsible for the formation of cancer proteins and the development of resistance in cancer.

What the researchers at the ICR claim to have found is the exact location of the mutation by crystallising the structure of an RNA helicase. They published their study in the latest edition of the peer-reviewed journal Nature Education.

Why is this important? According to the ICR researchers, the mutation exists in DHX8 protein. Knowing this should bring scientists one step closer to developing targetted therapies that could prevent cancer at the molecular level - before it even develops.

On the level of the genes

Previous studies have already established the fact that cancer occurs when specific genes called cellular-oncogenes are activated by mutations - usually induced by exposure to carcinogens. A 2009 research pointed out that of the 30,000 genes in the human DNA, about 1% have the ability to turn into cancer if mutations occur in them. This includes both hereditary and somatic mutations.

On the level of the cells

A small proportion of cancer cells can behave like stem cells, to take on different forms. That is how cancer spreads from one organ to another - what they call metastasis in medical terms.

Think about it this way: cancer stem cells (CSCs) can differentiate just like stem cells in an unborn embryo to become different organs.

CSCs may be responsible for the recurrence of cancer in people who have previously received cancer treatment.

Finally, the body has its own failsafe to guard against cancer: P53. It is a transcription factor that controls cell division. P53 is responsible for stopping cell division and inducing cell death (apoptosis) in case of DNA damage. However, in more than 53% tumours, this factor is "non-functional" and cancer cells can survive.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. For our in-depth article on cancer, please read Cancer: Types, Stages, Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment.

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