Getting to Know Cancer

Human body is made up of cells. At a microscopic level, you will see trillions of cells divided into about 200 different types. Cells are our basic unit of life; all our body processes, from absorption of food to excreting our body's waste products, occur through cells.

All the cells in your body, those trillions of cells, work together as a community. However, when one cell acquires gene mutation, multiplying it when it shouldn't, it becomes abnormal causing uncontrolled growth.

How Cancer Starts

A healthy functional cell does not immediately turn into cancer cell just because of one cell acquiring gene mutation. The abnormal cell will first start to grow uncontrollably and multiply; this cell will not die, instead, they grow into other tissues.

The difference between cancer cells and normal cells is that cancer cells has lost its vital control systems so instead of repairing itself or dying when damaged (just like what the normal cell does), cancer cells make new cells that the body don't actually need. 

Causes of Cancer

Cancer is a complex group of more than 100 diseases with many different possible causes. Although there are many different types of cancer, causes may be due to a lot of factors including the following:

  • Genetic Factors where some types of cancer run in the family as people can inherit abnormal DNA from parents.
  • Lifestyle Factors such as alcohol and tobacco use, diet and physical inactivity (obesity).
  • Certain Type of Bacteria/Infection where (some infections) may cause long-term inflammation that may directly affect a cell's DNA.
  • Exposure to Chemicals/Radiation such as ultraviolet lights, radon gas, etc.
  • Other Carcinogens such as pollution, some medical treatment, etc.
  • UV Exposure or too much sun exposure.

Factors stated above causes some of the most common types of cancer according to National Cancer Institute such as:

  • Skin Cancer 
  • Lung Cancer 
  • Breast Cancer
  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Colorectal Cancer 
  • Renal Cancer
  • Thyroid Cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma
  • Bladder Cancer
  • Pancreatic Cancer
  • Endometrial Cancer
  • Leukemia

How Cancer Spreads

Cancer cells often begin to grow and form new cancer cells to other parts of the body. The process of spreading the cancer cell is called "metastasis". There are three main ways on how cancer cells are spread. These are:

  • Local spread – cancer grows directly into nearby body tissues.
  • Through blood circulation – cancer cells are moving through the wall of a blood vessel to get into the bloodstream where it's swept along by the circulating blood until it grows and multiply again somewhere, usually in capillaries.
  • Through lymphatic system – cancer cells travel in circulating lymph fluid until it grows and multiply again in small channel inside a lymph node.

How Cancer is Detected

In early stages of some cancer, regular screening can already detect if there are abnormal cells growing and forming in some parts of a person's body so it becomes a lot easier to treat and cure. These regular cancer screening includes mammograms that detects breast cancer, and smear test for cervical cancer. Other methods used to detect cancer are:

  • Imaging (X-ray, CT Scan, MRI Scan, PET Scan, and Ultrasound)
  • Endoscopy 
  • Tissue samples (biopsy)
  • Blood tests and other samples (includes sugar, protein, fats, and DNA)

How Cancers Differ

A type of cancer is named for the place it started no matter where it spread. So a breast cancer will still be called a breast cancer even if the cancer cells have already spread to the liver. Each types of cancer behave very differently and each type grows at a different rate as well. For this reason, cancers are treated depending on its kind as they respond differently to every different treatments.

Cancer Treatment

Because there are different types of cancer, treatment for each type is also different. Once a cancer is detected, the doctor will provide you the best treatment for your specific situation, taking account the stage and type of cancer, where it's located, where it has spread, as well as your general health.

The following are the main methods used to treat cancer:

  • Surgery (removing cancer cells)
  • Chemotherapy (using medicines to kill cancer cells)
  • Radiotherapy (radiation treatment to kill cancer cells)
  • Hormonal Therapy (lowering hormones in body)
  • Monocional Antibody Therapy (directly targets and attacks cancer cells)
  • Immunotherapy (medicines that encourages immune system to attack and kill cancer cells)
  • Angiogenesis Inhibitor Therapy (interfere with the development of blood vessels that delivers oxygen, which the tumor needs to survive)
  • Alternative and Complementary Therapy (treatment other than conventional treatments such as traditional Chinese medicines that help control cancer cells)

How Common Cancer Is

Men or women, adult or children may have the possibility of developing cancer. It's one of the leading causes of death in the world no matter how young or old a person is.That is why early cancer detection and cancer awareness is very important especially if you have risk of acquiring it (i.e genes, lifestyle, etc). It is therefore recommended to go see a doctor regularly even without experiencing any signs and symptoms. Remember that the best weapon for this problem is to find it out earlier.