March 13, 2011

Cancer cars

Cancer is, quite simply, out of control cells.

Imagine two cars driving down a highway, one red and one yellow. The yellow one does the speed limit, stays inside the lines, checks the side mirrors before changing lanes, indicates ahead of time and keeps a safe distance from other cars. The red car speeds, weaves in and out of traffic, overtakes dangerously and tailgates.

Cancer: Out of control cells

The yellow car is clean and shiny. The red car has damaged paint and stinks.

Yellow cars are the normal cells in your body. The red car knew the rules once, but now ignores them. This is cancer.

The rules

Health: Cells following the rules
Normal cells in your body follow the rules of your body. They divide when needed to and stop when told. They interact with other cells in a normal way and behave in a way that respects cells around them.

Cancer cells do none of these things. They grow when they want to and how they want to. They force blood vessels to grow to feed them. They recruit normal cells to behave in strange ways. They get greedy and start to take over other tissues.

The things that make cancer cells dangerous can be turned against them. Oncology (the branch of medicine related to cancer and its treatment) exploits these cancerous traits. In fact, these qualities are exactly those targeted during chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Cells are the building blocks of life, and cancer

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