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What is the lowest level attribute that all cancers share? Also, what is the highest level attributes that all cancers share?

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What I'm trying to establish on this post is.. What do all cancers have in common? Even on the lowest level. –  David Walz Aug 17 '12 at 2:26

5 Answers 5

Could you define your terms a bit more? How do you define levels?

The most common trait shared by cancerous cells is a regulatory malfunction somewhere. Whether it's a failure to regulate apoptosis, failure to recognize boundaries composed of regular cells, or failure to enter states of the cell cycle - a metabolic process somewhere goes awry, which leads to the unwanted proliferation of the cell and its daughter cells.

It was recently discovered that some (but not all) tumors spring from a set of "cancer stem cells" which originally incurred the mutation and serve as the epicenter. They have the capacity to regrow tumors if they are not destroyed or harvested during treatment.

I think the "highest" level trait they all share is that all cancers are unwanted. Other than that, cancers vary so widely that there's practically no universals between them that I'm aware of.

However, I'm not an Oncoligst or a researcher.

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A reference would strengthen this answer, especially if you aren't familiar with the field. Although you are right: "cancer" is very much a blanket term for anything uncontrollable division of cells, whatever the cause. –  LanceLafontaine Aug 17 '12 at 2:14

Cancer is such a diverse group of diseases that they really only share one commonality, unregulated cell growth with the potential ability to invade or transfer to other tissue types.

Many types of cancer share certain characteristics and can thus be grouped, but as a whole the only characteristic all cancers share is that they are classified as cancer. That classification is based on a number of markers and evaluations used to differentiate between benign and malignant neoplasms. Malignancy is determined by an expert pathologist who uses these markers and evaluations to determine his or her diagnosis based on experience. Some examples of indicators are circumscription, pleomorphism, presence of a capsule, nuclei number and morphology, amount of cytoplasm, number of mitoses, size, depth, particular gene mutations and so on. Even with all of these indicators, it can't be known with certainty beforehand whether or not neoplasms will metastasize.

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Hanahan and Weinberg's "Hallmarks of Cancer" articles should answer your question.

Their original, highly cited (14k+ citations), [Six] Hallmarks of Cancer article list these six common attributes of all cancers:

  • Sustaining proliferative signaling
  • Evading growth suppressors
  • Activating invasion and metastasis
  • Enabling replicative immortality
  • Inducing angiogenesis
  • Resisting cell death

The new article, Hallmarks of Cancer: The Next Generation includes additional "emerging hallmarks" and "enabling characteristics" (Figure 3) common among cancers:

  • The capability to modify, or reprogram, cellular metabolism in order to most effectively support neoplastic proliferation; and
  • The ability to evade immunological destruction, in particular by T and B lymphocytes, macrophages, and natural killer cells.
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I would say angiogenesis, is Cancer's weapon of choice, please see this talk at TED –  rraallvv Apr 10 '13 at 8:46

All cancers are very different, even when they are the same type of cancer. Breast Cancer, for example, falls into ER+, HER+ and Triple Negative subtypes, all which have different survival outcomes and response to therapeutics. We didn't realise the extent of diversity until we started to analyse the tumours at a higher level of resolution.

That being said, there can be some common pathways that are affected. p53 mutations tend be common in all cancer types, RAS, EGFR are some examples. When we analyze the details at the genomic level(SNP level,Copy Number variants, insertions-deletions), mutations can be very variable, but as you zoom out we see that they target similar genes and furthermore similar pathways.

But recall: people used to die just of fever back in the day, we know now that fever is a symptom not the disease. Technology will allow us to understand whether Cancer is just a catch-all, or whether they are actually different diseases.

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There definitely has to be an upstream factor that drives ALL cancers. The fundamental common denominator of all cancers is growth and survival, basic life processes. If you can figure out what ultimately drives these processes, you can figure out what ultimately drives ALL cancer types and subtypes. Cancer is just diversified growth. With an open toolbox to employ. All cancer cells originate because of one point factor, one switch point that alters their developmental trajectory. There are lot of variables it could be.

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