Hallmarks of Malignant Growth: Self-Sufficiency in Growth Signals

To understand what makes continuous growth such a powerful idea, despite clear evidence that it often becomes harmful, The Incredible Shrinking Man turned to cancer research to learn where growth within a healthy system turns malignant. Although cancer is a very complex phenomenon the seminal paper “ The hallmarks of cancer” managed to simplify its underlying process to 10 common traits that every single cancer shares to facilitate the transformation from a normal cell to a cancer cell. Published by Robert Weinberg and Douglas Hanahan in 2000, with an updated version in 2013, the paper functions as a guide and lense to learn what the underlying principles of growth in an economic sense are that have become equally destructive. And what to do about it.

The first hallmark described by the authors is the ability of cancer cells to stimulate their own growth. Normally in multi-cellular beings such as humans, cells communicate with each other in response to environmental conditions. There’s a sophisticated chain of command with lots of check points to make sure the signal only continues downstream when there is a genuine need. This chain, or cascade, is basically made up of proteins connecting to each other like pieces of a puzzle, and exchanging pieces of information. If the piece fits then the cascade continues all the way to the inside of the nucleus where DNA is activated. Cancer cells do not need the ‘go ahead’ signal of external growth factors because they are able to: 1. Synthesise their own growth factors, thus multiplying even when the appropriate environmental conditions are not there. 2. Create more, or more responsive, receptors for the growth signal, creating a state of hypersensitivity to (external) growth signals or 3. Bypass the necessity for growth signals by activating pieces of the protein puzzle further downstream in the cascade. With these 3 strategies for bypassing the regulation of growth cancer cells are capable of growing uncontrollably.

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