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Cells and cancer

Cancer is a disease that originates in our own cells. A change in the DNA causes a special gene called an oncogene to be switched on. This leads to uncontrollable cell reproduction by mitosis. This is a cancer.


Cancer cells are able to replicate by overcoming the normal controls of cell division. They may form a lump or tumour which can cause damage to surrounding tissues and organs. Cancer cells may spread from the original (primary) tumour to form new (secondary) tumours throughout the body. When this happens the tumour is said to have metastasized.

This resource looks at how cancer cells develop, the causes of cancer and how treatments are used to tackle cancer.

A newborn baby

A newborn baby
This new born baby has around a billion cells. She will grow and develop as new cells are formed by the process of mitosis (cell division). Sometimes mitosis can go wrong and cause cancer cells to develop.

How to use this site

There are a number of interactive features in this e-source:

  • A glossary of terms: any word with a glossary entry is highlighted like this.
  • Quick questions: at the end of most pages or sections there is a question or set of quick questions to test your understanding.
  • Animations: most of the animations can be expanded to full screen size, ideal for showing on an interactive whiteboard. The animations will play all the way through or can be viewed one section at a time.
  • Downloads: Teachers can download individual diagrams, animations and other content from the Download Library area of the website. Terms and Conditions apply.