Cancer is a disease of cells gone awry, of uncontrolled proliferation, of the loss of normal patterns of cell behavior. Cancer arises from a series of genetic and epigenetic changes that endow the cancer cell with its malignant behavior.
The tumor develops into what researchers now realize is essentially a new tissue - becoming a complex mixture of tumor and normal cells in the tumor microenvironment that help support the existence and continued proliferation of the embedded cancer cells. And, most devastatingly, cancer cells learn to move from their initial home to new, sometimes distant, sites in the body.
Despite these complexities and challenges, scientists now have a rapidly growing knowledge of the biology of a vast array of cancers, across a wide range of sites, both in solid tissue and blood. NCI’s cancer biology research—initiated largely by investigators in hundreds of NCI-funded laboratories across the U.S.—helps build the basic knowledge of normal and cancerous cells, developing an ever-deeper understanding of biological mechanisms that may provide the basis for clinical applications to follow. We support and coordinate research projects at NCI and at universities, hospitals, research foundations, and businesses across the U.S. and abroad. This lofty mission starts with the simplest of questions: What is—and isn’t—normal?
The discoveries of basic biology in cancer are usually more than a simple step away from clinical application. These are the scientific advances, however, that drive further research into new drugs and treatments—the backbone, if you will, of progress for patients in the future.