Cancer Arises from DNA Mutations in Cells
Cancer is caused by DNA damage (i.e., mutations) in genes that regulate cell growth and division.
Some mutations are inherited, while others are caused by exposure to radiation or to mutation-inducing chemicals such as those found in cigarette smoke. Mutations also can occur spontaneously as a result of mistakes that are made when a cell duplicates its DNA molecules prior to cell division.
When cells acquire mutations in specific genes that control proliferation, such as proto-oncogenes or tumor suppressor genes, these changes are copied with each new generation of cells. Later, more mutations in these altered cells can lead to uncontrolled proliferation and the onset of cancer. (For more information on how gene mutations cause cancer, see Understanding Cancer.)