How Cancer Arises; September 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Weinberg; 9 Page(s)
How cancer develops is no longer a mystery. During the past two decades, investigators have made astonishing progress in identifying the deepest bases of the process--those at the molecular level. These discoveries are robust: they will survive the scrutiny of future generations of researchers, and they will form the foundation for revolutionary approaches to treatment. No one can predict exactly when therapies targeted to the molecular alterations in cancer cells will find wide use, given that the translation of new understanding into clinical practice is complicated, slow and expensive. But the effort is now under way.
In truth, the term "cancer" refers to more than 100 forms of the disease. Almost every tissue in the body can spawn malignancies; some even yield several types. What is more, each cancer has unique features. Still, the basic processes that produce these diverse tumors appear to be quite similar. For that reason, I will refer in this article to "cancer" in generic terms, drawing on one or another type to illustrate the rules that seem to apply universally.