Cancer – Mutation
Allen: Cancer is the end product of a system that’s off balance. Something has occurred in our cells or in our tissues that has caused some major damage that wasn’t corrected properly. So, it’s really about a system that has progressed out of control.
Cancer is typically an abnormal growth of cells and often with cancer, mutations changes in the genetic make-up of an organism play a role. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
Allen: What happens with cancer is that cells will accumulate mutations.
Oncologist Coy Allen.
Allen: Many of those cells will get cleared away by the immune system. Treatment will clear away many of those cells, but the ones that remain behind are the ones that have gained additional mutations that have actually made them stronger and harder to eliminate – survival of the fittest.
Unfortunately with cancer, a lot of these mutations are induced. For example, UV rays from the sun will cause mutations, and these mutations are often very unfavorable mutations, and they’re not dealt with properly by our bodies. And over time, our bodies are effective at clearing away 99 percent of the damaged cells, but that 1 percent that survives have acquired additional mutations that gives them more strength gives them more abilities to evade the immune system or evade our drugs that we’re trying to treat them with.
But mutations are also important elements of the evolution of species. Could there be, over time, any positive outcomes from cancer?
Allen: That’s an interesting question. Unfortunately, we don’t evolve that fast. And so, over time, I think our immune systems in our current state they’ve maxed out. I think, at this point, it’s up to us to modulate, or to control, our immune responses using therapeutics to try to combat cancer.
Pulse of the Planet is made possible in part by Virginia Tech, inventing the future through a hands-on approach to education and research.