Cells communicate with each other using a "language" of chemical signals.
The cell grows, divides, or dies according to the signals it recieves.
Disruptions in cellular communication contribute to cancer. Cancer cells thrive without external growth signals and ignore anti-growth signals.
Where does cellular communication fail? To understand the pathways to cancer, researchers study the signaling pathways in non-cancerous cells.
Signals are generally transferred from the outside of the cell, through the cytoplasm and into the cell nucleus. Specialized proteins are used to pass the signal -- a process known as signal transduction.
Cells have a number of overlapping pathways to transmit signals to multiple targets. The pathways intersect, so cancer cells typically have disruptions in several signaling pathways.
The 3-D animations in this Pathways to Cancer section focus on a single pathway that regulates growth and protein production. Mutations in many of the signaling proteins in this pathway (particularly those with the orange halo) can cause abnormal cell growth and proliferation.