Ignorance creates fear, and this video should alleviate the fears of its viewers to some extent. How does a tumor develop and what exactly is a tumor; this will be illustrated in this video. Both animals and human beings are composed of many different cells that form groups; different groups of cells form organs with specific functions.
Every cell contains genetic information in its nucleus, which assigns a particular task to the cell. This genetic information is contained in several long strands that consist of sugar, phosphate, and four different bases (adenine, thymine, guanine, cytosine). These bases are lined up in a row to form the so-called DNA strand. Pairs of these strands combine to form chromosomes.
Everyone must be familiar with the fact that the microprocessor of a computer only knows “power off” and “power on;” i.e., 1 and 0. The binary coding of this impulse can represent numbers, letters, and many other symbols; e.g., the binary code 01000010 stands for the letter “B.” DNA strands in a cell work in a similar fashion; it is always 3 base pairs that code for one amino acid, which is a building block from which the cell produces proteins. Proteins form the basic framework for all kinds of cell organs or organelles.
The interior of a cell is somewhat more complex than that of a computer; the coding does not just depend on the arrangement of base pairs but also on the manner in which the DNA strand is organized, i.e. how it is folded. Therefore, this DNA strand determines the type of cell it is going to become, what tasks it will have to perform, and when it is supposed to die.
Besides the nucleus, a cell comprises various cell compartments; e.g., there is a “stomach” as well as “factories,” in which new proteins are produced from amino acids. Other factories use sugar molecules to produce carbohydrates, while others use fatty acids to produce fats. Also, every cell has a so-called cytoskeleton.
Not only does this cytoskeleton provide the cell with its shape, but it also transports substances within the cell; like a series of huge conveyor belts, it transports substances within the cell from one place to another. So basically, a cell is put together in the same way an entire organism is put together, but on a much smaller scale.
The DNA is like a recipe book in which all instructions are written down with great precision. These processes must be executed in an organized manner; otherwise, the result is chaos. Imagine a young heart cell that developed from blood precursor cells. It grows and settles down at the location of the future heart.
There, it finds its peers, and they all multiply and join to form a primitive precursor organ. The information required by the cells for finding their proper location is coded in the nucleus as well. Other cells, the so-called guiding cells, also help the heart cell to find its right location. Many of these guiding cells atrophy after embryonic development; sometimes, cysts may form out of such cells.
Our heart cell has now reached its destination, where it multiplies and links up with its peers. Cell–cell contacts form; this is noticed by the cell nucleus, which immediately releases information about the tasks that need to be done; e.g., it may dictate the cell to produce more of the protein myosin and integrate it into the cytoskeleton.
The corresponding proteins are immediately produced in the cell factories and built into the cell skeleton. At some point, the primitive heart cell begins to concentrate because of the new proteins, and the cell network results in a heartbeat.
Just as human beings have a certain lifespan, the heart cell also has one, after which it must make room for new cells. Because work leads to wear, the cytoskeleton ages. A biologist terms this programmed cell death as apoptosis. When the time arrives, the nucleus notifies the cell to destroy itself; i.e., to initiate apoptosis.
At that point, we arrive at our topic of cancer. If apoptosis is not executed properly, this cell, which “does not want to die,” could turn into a cancer cell. However, although our heart cell “does not want to die,” it does not want to multiply either. Nevertheless, its defective function is immediately detected by special guard cells (the immune system), who simply eliminate or destroy it.
Here is another heart cell. As soon as the cells reach their destination, they normally begin to divide, and they continue to do so until they run out of space. Special receptors on the cell surface signal that the cell is surrounded by its peers and does not need to continue dividing; it has to assume its originally assigned function instead, which in this case is the production of myosin. Sometimes, both apoptosis and the cell division mechanism do not work.
As a result, this other cell keeps multiplying, even though there is no more space available. It “does not want to die” either, because the apoptosis mechanism does not work anymore. Therefore, a lot has gone haywire in the cell, or more precisely, in the DNA strand, where signaling pathways do not work anymore, the wrong proteins are being produced, etc.
Every new descendent cell has the same defect, and these descendent cells also divide unlimitedly. Moreover, since the entire cell metabolism has gone haywire, more and more defects accumulate in these descendent cells. They are so severe that the cell either dies immediately or a true tumor cell develops. Because a malignant tumor has not formed at this stage, the guard cells (our immune system) notice the rapidly dividing defective cells immediately and destroy them.
Unfortunately, not all can be destroyed because some cells survive the attack of the immune system, and through newly accumulated defects in the genetic information, these cells succeed in fleeing the immune system. Through spontaneous mutations, some of the descendent cells acquire the capability to detach from the cell network. They produce an enzyme that allows the cell to eat through vascular walls. Therefore, the now malignant cell reaches a foreign location, leading to metastasis.
In this case, the primum; i.e., the cell of origin, was a heart cell. It is not always possible to trace the origin of these tumor cells because the accumulated defects cause the cells to lose more and more of their original form/function. Such tumors are called malignant tumors with an unknown primum.
Obviously, all this work (cell division, migration) consumes a lot of energy. This is also the reason why human beings die; either the cell settles in at a very unfavorable location from where it cannot be removed, or the body loses so much energy that it dies from energy depletion. In most cases, it is a mixture of both. Luckily, fewer and fewer patients are dying from a malignant tumor, although the frequency of tumors is increasing. The reason for reduced deaths lies in perpetually improved therapeutic possibilities; however, an early recognition is equally important.
How do these defects occur? If we look at our heart cell, we can see that radioactive irradiation may damage the DNA, but certain chemicals may also harm them. Depending on the tissue, there are different ways in which it can be damaged. Lung cells do not tolerate cigarette smoke, liver cells do not tolerate alcohol, and kidney cells do not tolerate heavy metals. The entire issue is further complicated by the immune system, which—as we have learned—can recognize and also eliminate tumor cells. However, it can also trigger tumor formation through various factors; e.g., chronic inflammatory stimuli.
Therefore, the development of a malignant tumor is an evolutionary process that occurs in one’s own body, and it is caused by a deregulated cell. Now it becomes clear as to why substances capable of damaging genetic information can trigger tumor formation. In short, anything that can disorganize the recipe book of a cell can cause tumor formation.
Some individuals inherently have better order in their cell library, whereas others have less of it. This is why there are families with a predisposition for certain tumors. Many factors contribute to the affinity for tumor development, including ones own genetic information, the amount and frequency of exposure to harmful substances, etc.
Another factor is the immune system, which is in turn modulated by our psyche. All these aspects are closely interrelated in a very complex manner; the more people understand these issues, the better they can arrange their lives for a balanced lifestyle, through which they can counteract the degeneration and abnormal multiplication of cells.