How cancer starts – Cancer Research UK

Cancer starts when healthy cell becomes damaged, and starts to multiply out of control. Learn about what happens to cells when cancer grows:

Cancer starts when a cells DNA is copied but there is a mistake. The cell checks whether everything is okay with the DNA. Is it damaged? Has it been copied correctly? Here you can see it’s damaged. Usually a cell with damaged DNA will die. But sometimes the cell ignores this warning and continues.

The cell gets ready to divide. It builds a scaffold, called the spindle, which attaches to the DNA. The cell checks again whether everything is okay. Is the DNA attached properly? Here you can see part of the DNA is attached to the wrong spindle. Usually a cell with a faulty spindle will die.

But sometimes the cell ignores the warning and divides anyway. The cell splits, but each new cell doesn’t have the right number of chromosomes. So some cells don’t have the correct number of genes and others have extra copies. These faulty cells no longer have the correct instructions, so they start to multiply out of control.

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