Cancer Cells and Normal Cells

What Are the Differences Between Cancer Cells and Normal Cells?

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Cancer cells are very different from normal cells. These differences typically allow them to escape from under control and grow wildly. Not only do they grow uncontrollably, but they are aggressive and become invasive. Normal cells will mature into specialized cell types with specific functions, whereas cancer cells do the opposite: they become less and less specialized as they lose control and become more aggressive. The way we describe how much they differ from normal cells is called: grade. A cancer that is low grade resembles more to its normal counterpart than a high grade disease (for more information see blog: What is Tumor Grade?). In addition to cancer cells’ ability to multiply without control, they are also able to ignore signals that normally tell cells to stop dividing or to die. Cancer cells may produce and secrete growth factors and other hormones that will stimulate normal cells to act in favor of the cancer, like forming blood vessels. Another important feature of cancer cells is that they may change in ways that help them evade the immune system and become “invisible” to the body’s natural ability to remove abnormal cells. Luckily, some of these features we can use in the fight against cancer. The rapid growth of cancer cells is the reason why we can use chemotherapy that typically targets dividing cells and due to the hormone dependence of some cancers, we can use hormonal manipulation.

Peter Acs, MD, PhD – Medical Oncologist

Updated 11:20 AM ET, Monday May 28, 2018