NCBI Bookshelf. A service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

National Center for Biotechnology Information (US). Genes and Disease [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Center for Biotechnology Information (US); 1998-.


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Cancer occurs when cell division gets out of control. Usually, the timing of cell division is under strict constraint, involving a network of signals that work together to say when a cell can divide, how often it should happen and how errors can be fixed. Mutations in one or more of the nodes in this network can trigger cancer, be it through exposure to some environmental factor (e.g. tobacco smoke) or because of a genetic predisposition, or both. Usually, several cancer-promoting factors have to add up before a person will develop a malignant growth: with some exceptions, no one risk alone is sufficient.

The predominant mechanisms for the cancers featured here are (i) impairment of a DNA repair pathway (ii) the transformation of a normal gene into an oncogene and (iii) the malfunction of a tumor supressor gene.