If somehow a human could give a tumor unlimited resources, would the cancer grow forever? It seems like it would until it gets so large that it physically affects vital organs. Is what would likely happen?


1 Answer 1


Yes. The very first cells used to study cancer are still around (HeLa Immortal Cells - Named for the subject Henrietta Lacks) and are basically immortal as long as they're fed.

As for tumors, whether cancerous or not they most definitely can continue to grow until they become a serious medical issue (WARNING: GRAPHIC - 3 Largest Tumors Recorded). One of the largest recorded tumors was 300lbs (~140kg) in a woman's abdomen that sprouted off of an ovary. They had to operate with her laying on her side, otherwise it would have crushed her abdomen and killed her.

Not all forms of cancer are immortal or produce large tumors (the 300lb tumor was benign), but it's definitely within the realm of plausibility.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Cancer will continue to grow as long as it is supplied with nutrients, as loss of growth inhibition is one hallmark of cancer. there are limitations in diffusion and access to blood supply that make some cancers better able to grow large tumors. $\endgroup$
    – user560
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 1:30
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Well, there's evidence emerging that the bulk of tumors may operate aerobic metabolisms more than normal cell respiration because of the lack of blood. I'd never use the term 'Cancer' on its own because there's about a thousand different types, and while all have regulatory mechanisms gone awry - saying they all grow when fed is also wrong. A thyroid cancer I read about recently also couldn't elongate its telomeres - still potentially fatal, but definitely 'mortal.' $\endgroup$
    – MCM
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 3:37
  • $\begingroup$ Fair points. I should have stated that any tissue, if it grows large enough, is limited by (passive) diffusion if no blood supply is developed. If it grows beyond the limit of diffusion, it will develop a necrotic core in the absence of a blood supply for richer nutrients. $\endgroup$
    – user560
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 15:05
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ not all cancer cell lines are immortal either. But in some cases, in a liquid culture they appear to have unlimited growth potential. $\endgroup$
    – shigeta
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 16:44
  • $\begingroup$ @leonardo In my understanding most cancer cell lines are in fact not immortal. When they found that HeLa wasn’t dying they had in fact already been searching for an immortal cell line for quite some time without success, and finding HeLa was a big surprise. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 20:04

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .