AQA AS Biology

Revision Notes

2.3.7 Uncontrolled Cell Division & Cancer

Uncontrolled Cell Division & Cancer

  • Cancers demonstrate how important it is that cell division is precisely controlled, as cancers arise due to uncontrolled mitosis
  • Cancerous cells divide repeatedly and uncontrollably, forming a tumour (an irregular mass of cells)
  • Cancers start when changes occur in the genes that control cell division. A change in any gene is known as a mutation. If the mutated gene is one that causes cancer it is referred to as an oncogene
    • Mutations are common events and don’t lead to cancer most of the time
    • Most mutations either result in early cell death or result in the cell being destroyed by the body’s immune system
    • As most cells can be easily replaced, these events usually have no harmful effect on the body
  • The mutations that result in the generation of cancerous cells do not result in early cell death or in the cell being destroyed by the body’s immune system
  • This means that the harmful mutation occurring in the original cell can be passed on to all that cell’s descendants
  • A typical tumour contains around a thousand million cancerous cells by the time it is detected
  • Carcinogens are any agents that may cause cancer (eg. UV light, tar in tobacco smoke and X-rays). If the agent causes cancer it is described as carcinogenic
  • Some tumours (such as warts) do not spread from their original site – these are known as benign tumours and do not cause cancer
  • Some tumours spread through the body, invading and destroying other tissues – these are known as malignant tumours and cause cancer
    • Malignant tumours interfere with the normal functioning of the organ / tissue in which they have started to grow (eg. they may block the intestines, lungs or blood vessels
    • Malignant tumour cells can break off the tumour and travel through the blood and / or lymphatic system to form secondary growths in other parts of the body
    • The spreading of cancers in this way is known as metastasis
    • Metastasis is very dangerous as it can be very difficult to detect, locate and remove secondary cancers

Stages in the development of cancer (1), downloadable AS & A Level Biology revision notesStages in the development of cancer (2), downloadable AS & A Level Biology revision notes

Stages in the development of cancer

Cancer treatments

  • Almost half of all people with cancer possess a mutated p53 gene
    • This is a gene that helps to control cell growth
  • However, there are also many other reasons why the control of cell division deteriorates
    • This means that there is no single effective treatment for individuals suffering from cancer
  • Most current cancer treatments/drugs work by controlling the rate of mitosis
    • Methotrexate –  inhibits the synthesis of DNA nucleotides in cells
    • Vincristine and taxol –  prevent the formation of the mitotic spindle

Exam Tip

Make sure you know examples of carcinogens. Also, you should know that some viruses (known as oncoviruses) cause cancer and can therefore also be described as carcinogens.

Author:

Alistair graduated from Oxford University in 2014 with a degree in Biological Sciences. He has taught GCSE/IGCSE Biology, as well as Biology and Environmental Systems & Societies for the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. While teaching in Oxford, Alistair completed his MA Education as Head of Department for Environmental Systems and Societies.
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