What Is Cancer?

Cancer is disease in which an abnormal growth of cells, in some cases, can spread (metastasize) uncontrollably. In basic terminology, the human body forms new cells as needed while replacing old cells when they die. Sometimes, cells grow even when you don’t need them to and old cells don’t die when they should. Those extra cells form a mass, called a tumor, and can either be benign or malignant.

Benign tumors aren’t cancer because they’re self limited in growth and do not invade or metastasize, though some types of benign tumors are capable of becoming malignant. Malignant tumors, however, are cancerous and can be characterized by three properties. Cancer cells can grow out of control (aggressive), invade and destroy adjacent tissues (invasive), and/or spread to other locations in the body (metastatic).

Though the causes of cancer are widespread, a common denominator is the introduction of abnormalities that cause changes within the cell. Chemical carcinogens, substances that have been linked to certain types of cancer, can be linked to tobacco smoking (lung and bladder cancer) and prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers (mesothelioma) and are just two examples. Alcohol, while is not a carcinogen by definition, is actually a mutagen and is thought to cause cancer by stimulating the rate of cell mitosis – leaving less time for enzymes to repair damaged DNA during DNA replication thereby increasing the likelihood of a genetic mistake. Cancers can also be caused by lesser known viral infections, making up to 15% of all human cases actually. Viruses such as human papillomavirus, hepatitis B and hepatitis C virus, Epstein-Barr virus, and the human T-lymphotropic virus can all lead to liver cancer, for example. Other methods such as hormonal imbalances, immune system dysfunction and heredity can all lead to an increased likelyhood of developing some type of cancer.

Symptoms and treatment will depend on the type of cancer, location, and how advanced it is. In most cases, cancers are usually recognized through symptoms that appear or are found during screening. A definitive diagnosis requires the opinion of a pathologist through a biopsy, though there are a few warning signs that may encourage a visit to your doctor for screening, most notably: a change in a wart or mole, a lump in the breast or testicles, coughing blood or a persistant cough, a skin sore or a persistent sore throat that doesn’t go away, a change in bladder or bowel habits, constant indigestion or difficulty swallowing, unusual bleeding or vaginal discharge, and chronic fatigue.

Once diagnosed, cancer can be treated a variety of ways. Surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapies, immunotherapy, and hormonal therapy are the most common forms of treatment – although Oncologists (human cancer scientists) have been more open to unconventional treatments and alternative medicine in recent years. While cancer has a reputation for being a deadly disease, advances in medical care have significantly improved the prognosis for those diagnosed. Cancer patients, for the first time in the history of oncology, are returning to the athletic arena and workplace at an ever increasing rate.

October 28th, 2007 • mdvaldosta • Cancer, Conditions and Diseases No Comments »


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