Basic Cancer Biology

Coursera~Johns Hopkins

I recently learnt some basic cancer biology from coursera, the link as below.

Lecture1~ Cancer Terms and Definitions

Cancer means “uncontrolled growth” => uncontrolled devision of abnormal cells in a part of the body

Also referred to as a “tumor” => a swelling of a part of the body, generally without inflammation, caused by an abnormal growth of tissue, whether benign or malignant

Also referred to as a “neoplasm” => a new and abnormal growth of tissue in some part of the body

So, cancer is caused by an accumulation of detrimental variation in the genome instead of single mutation

Where does the word from?

about cancer
  • From Greek => “a crab” (because some tumors with swollen veins are similar to crabs )
  • From Latin => “a crab” => “maglignant tumor”
  • Old English => “spreading sore”
about Oncology

“onco” means bulk, mass or tumor => a study branch of tumor and cancer science

about Metastasis

From Greek => “migration; a changing; revolution”

Now refers to the spreading of cancer from primary site to distant organs

Where does cancer start?

Cancers are classified into four main types according to the tissues where they originate

  • Carcinoma: Arise in epithelial tissue (internal and external lining of the body)

    • Adenocarcinomas develop in an organ or gland; [Most common cancer including prostate, breast, liver cancer]

      First look at the cervical histology

    Cervical Histology

    Then look at the Carcinoma (Prostate Cancer)


    • Squamous cell carcinorma develop in the squamous epithelium of organs, including the skin, bladder, esophagus, and lung
  • Sarcoma: [Account for < 10% ]Arise from connective tissue that is found in bones, tendons, cartilage, muscle, and fat

    This is Ewing’s Scarcoma


  • Leukemia: cancer of the blood that originate in bone marrow image-20190803154507076

  • Lymphoma: Cancers of the lymph system (starting from lymph node) image-20190803154514652

six most common cancers worldwide

The global cancer burden is estimated to have risen to 18.1 million new cases and 9.6 million deaths in 2018


  • Lung

    • Function: Lungs deliver air(oxygen) to the blood
    • Most common in men and women, extremely lethal
    • Many subtypes, but 85% are non-small-cell cancers (NSCLC), including adenocarcinoma (40%), squamous cell carcinoma (25%) and large-cell carcinoma (10%)
    • Risk factors: Smoking (87% in men and 70% in women) => 25 times higher risk compared to non-smokers
  • Breast

    • milk-producing glands surrounded by fat and connective tissue. The gland connect to ducts which carry milk out to the nippleimage-20190803154529259

    • Most common cancer in US women; Second leading cause of cancer death

    • Classified by location and histologic ( tissue or cellular) subtype. 70% -80% are infiltrating ductal cancers, followed by lobular and nipple cancers

    • Risk factors: Age: 1/8 cancers in women under 45; 2/3 are in women over age 55;

      Positive family history: Approximately double if having one first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter);

      Genes: BRCA1 increase risk by 55-65%, BRCA2 by 45%; Dense breast tissue: may make mammograms less acurate Lifestyle: Obesity, inactivity, alcohol use, not having children, oral contraceptive use, post-menopausal hormone therapy

    • Prevention: No known proven strategies, except for prophylactic mastectomy in high-risk women

    • Screening: Self-exams, Yearly exams by health practitioner, Mammograms, MRI, ultrasound (potentially)

  • Colon

    • Five-foot-long tube at the end of the digestive system that store waste

      Rectum is the last 6 inches of the colon


    • Third most common cancer

    • Most primary colon cancers are adenocarcinomas

    • Detected early => could be cured

    • Risk factors: Age (9/10 diagnosed people are over 50-year-old); Diet: High in red meats, low in vegetables; Lifestyle: Obesity, smoking, alcohol; Inflammatory bowel disease; Positive family history: Approximately double with one affected first-degree relative; Genes: DNA repair=> APC, KRAS, TP53

    • Colon cancer screening: Colonscopy every 5-10 years from age 50

  • Prostate

    • A gland about the size of a walnut below the bladder

      Only found in men; Thought to protect the urinary tract from infections


    • Most common in men and as 2ed leading cause of cancer death

    • Risk factors: Age: mainly in old men (6/10 in age 65 or older; rare before age 40; average age is 66) Ethnicity: Higher in African American men, lower in Asian men Positive famoly history: Double when father or brother with cancer Genes: HoxB13; BRCA1,2; MSH2; MLH1 Diet: High in red meat, low in vegetables

    • Prevention: No known proven strategies

    • Screening: Yearly digital rectal exam starting at age 50; Yearly prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood tests at age 55-69; African-americans or with + family history screen at age 40

  • Stomach

    • Risk factors: Sex: twice in men; Age: over age of 60; H.pylori: Chronic infection with this bacteria Diet: smoked foods, salted fish/meat, pickled vegetables Lifestyle: Obesity, smoking Type A blood
  • Liver

    • A large gland at right below the rib cage on the right side; Process nutrients absorbed from the intestine; Makes clotting factors; Secretes bile to help absorb fats image-20190803154550329
    • Risk factors: Sex: twice in men; Chronic viral hepatitis: HepB or HepC lead to cirrhosis of the liver; Alcohol: lead to cirrhosis Aflatoxins; Lifestyle: Obesity, anabolic steriods abuse, smoking
    • Screening: No proven strategies Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) blood tests and ultrasound exams every 6 to 12 months
Yunze Liu
Yunze Liu
Bioinformatics Sharer

Co-founder of Bioinfoplanet(生信星球)