Cancer arises when cells lose the ability to die following injury, begin to divide uncontrollably and invade other tissues. Cancer cells spread by direct growth into adjacent tissue or by implantation into distant sites, a process called metastasis and whereby cancer cells are transported through the bloodstream or lymphatic system to distant sites. The unregulated growth that characterizes cancer is caused by damage to DNA, resulting in mutations to genes that encode proteins controlling cell division. These mutations can be caused by chemicals or physical agents called carcinogens, by close exposure to radioactive materials, or by certain viruses that can insert their DNA into the human genome. Mutations may occur spontaneously, or may be passed down from one generation to the next in the germ lines.
Researchers within this thematic investigate common human tumours such as breast cancer, lymphoma and brain tumours in order to try to understand the genetic mutations resulting in these disorders and, hopefully, identify points of attack by new therapies.