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What is a Tumor Suppressor Gene?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Jan 25, 2024
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A tumor suppressor gene is a protective gene that helps to inhibit the growth of cancer cells in localized parts of the body. In normal cell division, cells divide and live only for a short time before dying. Cancer cells do not behave like normal cells, and begin to multiply uncontrollably. They also become immortal unless there is some intervention implemented to kill the out of control cells. A tumor suppressor gene is one half of any cell that acts to prevent the formation of cancer.

Every cell contains chromosomes from each of the person’s parents. If one of these chromosomes is damaged, missing, or mutated, the second chromosome in each pair acts as a dominant gene and prevents the mutation from causing cancer. It is possible, howeer, for these tumor suppressor genes to eventually mutate themselves due to outside factors.

Tumor suppressor genes help halt cancerous growths because they contain proteins that stop the mutated cells from growing. If damaged cells can’t grow at a rapid pace, they can’t cause cancer. Cancer becomes a probability when the tumor suppressor gene also mutates.

Mutating of a tumor suppressor gene usually occurs due to poor choices in lifestyle or habit. When a person smokes, eat carcinogen-rich foods, or fails to provide the immune system with what it needs to function properly, mutations can occur. When this happens, both chromosomes are damaged and there is nothing standing in the way of hyperactive cell division.

Mutated cells are often inherited traits that one acquires from one or both parents. It is possible to prevent any tumor suppressor gene in the body from mutating and causing cancer. One should eat foods that promote a healthy immune system because white blood cells help to seek out and destroy mutated cells. Handling stress and exercising regularly are also immune boosters. Things to avoid include smoking, eating too much fat or red meat, and living a sedentary lifestyle.

BRCA1 is a type of tumor suppressor gene found in the breast. In women who get breast cancer, the suppressor genes are usually genetically malfunctioned from birth. This is the defect that can be passed on from generation to generation, and it greatly increases a person’s risk of cancer. The same fundamental idea is at work in every system of the body, although each tumor suppressor gene has its own name and cancer preventing protein.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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