Cancer is a term used to define a group of diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control, are able to invade neighboring tissues/organs and metastasize. Cancer has been characterized by six hallmarks; self sufficiency in proliferative growth signals, insensitivity to growth inhibitors, evasion of apoptosis, limitless replicative potential, ability to develop blood vessels (angiogenesis), and tissue invasion and metastasis.
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There are more than 100 different types of human cancer - most named after the organ or type of cell in which they start. Cancer types can be grouped into broad categories, the five main ones being:
- Carcinoma - cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line internal organs.
- Sarcoma - cancer that begins in connective or supportive tissue (bone, cartilage, muscle).
- Leukemia - cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow. Abnormal blood cells are produced which enter the bloodstream.
- Lymphoma and myeloma - cancers that begin in the immune system.
- CNS cancers - cancers that begin in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord.
Due to the prevalence of cancer within the population, investigation of potential therapeutic targets is the focus of intense research. Current therapeutic research is focusing on identifying new cellular targets for intervention, developing drugs based on small molecules, antibodies or nucleic acids. New drugs specifically targeting intracellular kinases, growth factor receptors or the proteasome are beginning to be used as frontline therapies, often in combination with established chemotherapeutic agents.
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