An oncogene is a mutated gene that contributes to the development of a cancer. In their normal, unmutated state, onocgenes are called proto-oncogenes, and they play roles in the regulation of cell division. Some oncogenes work like putting your foot down on the accelerator of a car, pushing a cell to divide. Other oncogenes work like removing your foot from the brake while parked on a hill, also causing the cell to divide.
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Within every cell in our body is a class of genes known as proto-oncogenes. Proto-oncogenes play important roles in controlling cell division and cell death during our growth and development. However, if a proto-oncogene becomes mutated, or the cell makes extra copies of the proto-oncogene, it can become hyper-activated and lead to the appearance of uncontrolled cell division. This therefore contributes to the development of a cancer cell from a normal cell. Once a proto-oncogene is activated by a mutation, we then refer to it as an oncogene. So it's the activation of oncogenes that's one type of genetic lesion that contributes to the development of a tumor.
Daphne W. Bell, Ph.D.
Investigator, Cancer Genetics Branch; Head, Reproductive Cancer Genetics Section
Dr. Bell's laboratory aims to understand genetic alterations that lead to clinically aggressive subtypes of endometrial cancer, to determine whether there is a heritable basis for familial endometrial cancer and to uncover genetic risk factors that promote the development of endometrial cancer at younger ages. Endometrial cancer is the most common gynecological malignancy in the United States. Most patients who present with Type 1 tumors have a good prognosis. Approximately 15% are diagnosed with Type 2 serous or clear cell tumors that are clinically aggressive. These patients have a five-year survival rate of less than 40%.