Humans and other living organisms are made up of cells. Based on their location, cells can live for a certain amount of time only. For instance, your liver cells can last from six months to a year, and then they are replaced with new ones. Taste buds cells, on the other hand, are replaced every 10-14 days. Healthy cells can destroy themselves when they become damaged and are replaced with new healthy cells. Healthy cells also grow in a controlled manner, but sometimes changes in these cells make them grow uncontrollably, resulting in a mass or tumor. Let’s find out more about cancer cells vs. normal cells to understand the difference.
What Are the Differences Between Cancer Cells and Normal Cells?
There are certain characteristics of healthy, normal cells that separate them from cancer cells. Here is a comparison of cancer cells vs. normal cells to help you know the difference.
1. Cell Reproduction
- Normal Cells: New cells replace dead cells or the cells that become damaged. This reproduction is important to maintain the cell population. Healthy cells reproduce properly by mitosis, except for sex cells that reproduce through meiosis.
- Cancer Cells: When cells become cancerous, they begin to reproduce uncontrollably mainly because they have chromosome mutations or gene mutations. They are in control of their growth signals and continue to multiply.
2. Cell Communication
- Normal Cells: Cells use chemical signals to communicate with other cells. This communication is important because it tells cells when to reproduce and when to stop the process. These cells receive signals about reproduction transmitted by specific proteins and know when to stop reproducing.
- Cancer cells: These cells do not have the ability to communicate with other cells and even become insensitive to anti-growth signals. That is the reason why they continue to multiple once they start reproducing.
3. Cell Adhesion
- Normal Cells: There are adhesion molecules on the surface of cells that help them stick to the cell membranes of surrounding cells. Normal cells have healthy adhesion molecules on their surface. That is why they can attach to the surrounding cells and stay in their proper location all the time.
- Cancer Cells: These cells do not have the adhesion molecules, so they can spread to other areas of the body. They travel through lymph fluid or the blood. They enter the bloodstream and damage other cells in the body.
4. Cell Specialization
- Normal Cells: Healthy cells can develop into specialized cells. It means they can easily develop into brain cells, heart cells, lung cells or other specific types of cells.
- Cancer Cells: These cells do not have the ability to transform into specialized cells. They are unspecialized and are like stem cells that replicate or proliferate many times. Cancer cell proliferation can be excessive and quite rapid too because they spread throughout your body.
5. Cell Death
- Normal Cells: An important difference in the comparison of cancer cells vs. normal cells is that normal cells self-destruct when they are diseased. This happens through a process called apoptosis in which these cells break down and are then eliminated by white blood cells.
- Cancer Cells: These cells do not have the ability to self-destruct, which is mainly because of the mutations that let the damage in the cells go undetected.
6. Ability to Metastasize
- Normal Cells: Normal cells stay in those locations in the body where they originally belong. They do not metastasize or leave their original location. For instance, lung cells do not leave lungs in any case.
- Cancer Cells: These cells can metastasize and leave their original location. They can travel throughout your body through the lymphatic system and bloodstream. They can enter the liver, the lungs, or the bones and begin to grow there. They can cause tumors to grow far from the original tumor.
- Normal Cells: When viewed under a microscope, normal cells are more consistent in their size. The nucleus in the normal cells looks smaller and lighter in normal cells as compared to cancer cells.
- Cancer Cells: Cancer cells vary greatly in size – they can be of an abnormal shape as well. The nucleus in cancer cells is rather dark, which is mainly because they contain excess DNA. They may also have an abnormal number of chromosomes, which are often arranged in a disorganized manner.
8. The Rate of Growth
- Normal Cells: Cells can reproduce, but normal cells stop this process once there are enough cells present.
- Cancer Cells: Unlike normal cells, cancer cells cannot stop reproduction and they continue to reproduce until the cells get a chance to mature.
- Normal Cells: These cells can reproduce and have the ability to become mature.
- Cancer Cells: These cells grow exponentially and remain immature. These are called undifferentiated cells. It means these cells divide even before they have time to mature.
- Normal Cells: The comparison of cancer cells vs. normal cells shows that normal cells are assigned a specific task and they always perform that task. For instance, the function of normal white blood cells is to fight off infections, and they do it all the time.
- Cancer Cells: These cells are usually dysfunctional. The numbers of white blood cells increase exponentially in leukemia, but these cancerous white blood cells do not function.
11. Evading Growth Suppressors
- Normal Cells: There are growth or tumor suppressors that control normal cells. Certain proteins handle this process, and these proteins are coded by three types of tumor suppressor genes. One type tells cells when to stop dividing, the other type helps fix damage in cells, and the last type takes care of the apoptosis.
- Cancer Cells: These cells are the result of mutations in any of the three growth or tumor suppressors that help regulate the functioning of normal cells. These mutations allow cancer cells to grow uncontrollably.