Cancer is a particularly appropriate topic for the concluding chapter of this book because it results from a breakdown of the regulatory mechanisms that govern normal cell behavior. As discussed in preceding chapters, the proliferation, differentiation, and survival of individual cells in multicellular organisms are carefully regulated to meet the needs of the organism as a whole. This regulation is lost in cancer cells, which grow and divide in an uncontrolled manner, ultimately spreading throughout the body and interfering with the function of normal tissues and organs. Because cancer results from defects in fundamental cell regulatory mechanisms, it is a disease that ultimately has to be understood at the molecular and cellular levels. Indeed, understanding cancer has been an objective of molecular and cellular biologists for many years. Importantly, studies of cancer cells have also illuminated the mechanisms that regulate normal cell behavior. In fact, many of the proteins that play key roles in cell signaling, regulation of the cell cycle, and control of programmed cell death were first identified because abnormalities in their activities led to the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells. The study of cancer has thus contributed significantly to our understanding of normal cell regulation, as well as vice versa.

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