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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Cancer: What it is, Why it Happens, How to Stop it, and More

How does cancer develop, why does it occur, and what preventive measures can be taken?

Cancer is when your body’s cells start growing out of control, and they can move to other parts of your body.

These fast-growing cells can form lumps called tumors and mess up how your body normally works.

Cancer is a major reason people die worldwide. In 2020, cancer caused nearly 1 out of every 6 deaths, as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO). Scientists are continuously testing new ways to treat cancer.

Understanding the Factors Behind Cancer Development

Cancer primarily happens when errors or alterations in your cell’s DNA occur. These changes can be passed down from your parents or develop later in life due to things in your environment.

These outside factors, known as cancer-causing agents, can encompass:

  • Radiation, including ultraviolet (UV) light.
  • Chemicals like those found in cigarette smoke, asbestos, alcohol, air pollution, and contaminated food and drinking water.
  • Biological factors such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites.

The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that tobacco, alcohol, having a high body mass index (BMI), not eating enough fruits and vegetables, and not getting enough physical activity might be responsible for approximately 33 percent of cancer-related deaths.

Risk indicators

Some things that might make it more likely for you to get cancer are called risk factors. These can include:

  1. Smoking or using tobacco products.
  2. Drinking too much alcohol.
  3. Eating an unhealthy diet with lots of red meat, sugary drinks, salty snacks, starchy foods, and processed carbohydrates.
  4. Not getting enough physical activity.
  5. Breathing in polluted air.
  6. Being exposed to radiation.
  7. Not protecting your skin from UV light, like from the sun.
  8. Getting infected by certain viruses, like H. pylori, HPV, hepatitis B and C, HIV, or Epstein-Barr virus (which causes mono).

Cancer risk goes up as you get older. It usually keeps rising until around age 70 to 80, and then it starts to go down. That’s what the National Cancer Institute (NCI) says.

A review from 2020 indicates that this could be because of:

As we get older, our body’s ability to repair cells isn’t as good. Over time, things that can cause cancer can build up in our body, and the longer we’re exposed to these harmful substances, the higher our risk of getting cancer becomes.

Certain health problems that make your body inflamed can also make it more likely for you to get cancer. For instance, ulcerative colitis, which is a long-term inflammatory gut condition, is one such example.

Forms of cancer

Cancers get their names from where they start and what kind of cells they’re made of, even if they move to other parts of the body. For instance, if a cancer begins in the lungs and goes to the liver, it’s still called lung cancer.

Various clinical terms categorize specific types of cancer:

Carcinoma is a kind of cancer that begins in your skin or the covering of organs. Sarcoma is a cancer that affects your body’s supporting tissues like bones, muscles, cartilage, and blood vessels. Leukemia is a cancer that starts in your bone marrow, where blood cells are made. Lymphoma and myeloma are cancers that happen in your immune system.

Explore additional resources below to gain a deeper understanding of specific cancer types.

The Power of Spotting Problems Early

Early detection means finding cancer at an early stage, which can make treatment work better and reduce the chances of dying from it.

Cancer screenings can find early signs of cancer. Some regular screenings can discover:

Cervical cancer and prostate cancer : are two types of cancer. Sometimes, during regular check-ups, doctors may perform tests to look for these cancers.

Lung cancer: People with higher chances of getting lung cancer might need frequent check-ups to look for the disease.

Skin cancer: A dermatologist can check your skin for cancer if you’re worried about it or if you’re more likely to get it.

Colorectal cancer: The American Cancer Society (ACS) suggests that people start getting checked for colorectal cancer when they turn 45. Usually, this involves a test called a colonoscopy. There are also home testing kits that can find certain types of colorectal cancer, as shown in a 2017 research review.

Breast cancer: Most women should get mammograms to check for breast cancer when they’re 45 or older. Some might start at 40 if they want to. If someone has a higher chance of getting breast cancer, they might need to start even earlier.

If people in your family had cancer before or if you’re more likely to get cancer, it’s really important to listen to what your doctor says about getting checked for it.

Knowing the signs of cancer can help folks find out they have it and get treatment. But, some cancers are tricky to find early, and they don’t cause any problems until they’re in the advanced stages.

Signs that might show you have cancer are:

  • lumps or growths on the body
  • unexplained weight loss
  • fever
  • tiredness and fatigue
  • pain
  • night sweats
  • changes in digestion
  • changes in skin
  • cough

Different kinds of cancers can show different signs that something might be wrong in your body. If you have strange symptoms you can’t explain, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor to find out what’s going on.

What causes cancer to develop and spread?

Abnormal cell division

Regular cells in your body grow and split. Each cell has a specific lifespan based on its type. When cells get hurt or die, new ones replace them.

Cancer messes up how cells normally grow and makes them grow in a strange way. It happens because there are problems or mistakes in the cell’s DNA.

Each cell’s DNA contains instructions for its functions, growth, and division. Mutations are common in DNA, and cells typically fix them. When uncorrected, mutations can lead to cancer.

Mutations can make cells that are supposed to go away stick around, and sometimes they create new cells when we don’t need them. These extra cells can grow too much and make lumps called tumors.

Creation of tumors

Tumors in your body can lead to health issues depending on where they develop.

Some lumps in your body are not cancer. These are called “benign tumors,” and they don’t move to other parts of your body.

Sometimes, lumps can become big and cause trouble when they squeeze nearby organs and tissue. Cancer lumps are harmful and can spread to other body parts.

Metastasis

Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system, a process known as metastasis.

Cancers that have spread to other parts of the body are more advanced and usually tougher to treat, making them more likely to be deadly.

Treatment

Cancer treatment varies based on the type and stage of cancer.

 Localized treatment. Localized treatment often includes procedures such as surgery or targeted radiation therapy focused on a specific area or tumor in the body.

Systemic treatment. Drugs like chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy can impact the whole body.

Palliative treatment. Palliative care helps ease the discomfort and symptoms that come with cancer, like difficulty breathing and pain.

Cancer treatments usually involve using a combination of methods to get rid of as many cancer cells as we can.

The most common treatments include.

Surgery

Surgery is a treatment that tries to take out as much cancer as it can. Sometimes, doctors use surgery along with other treatments to make sure they get rid of all the cancer cells.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy involves the administration of potent medications designed to target and eliminate fast-growing cancer cells, thereby serving as an aggressive approach to cancer treatment. Its primary objectives include reducing tumor size, decreasing the cancer cell population within the body, and minimizing the risk of cancer metastasis.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a way to treat cancer using strong beams of radiation. There are two types: one where radiation is given inside your body, called brachytherapy, and the other where it’s done outside your body, called external beam radiation. The goal is to use these beams to zap and destroy cancer cells.

Stem cell (bone marrow) transplant

This treatment fixes damaged bone marrow by replacing it with healthy stem cells. Stem cells are versatile cells that can do many different jobs in the body. These transplants help doctors use stronger chemotherapy to fight cancer. Stem cell transplants are often used to treat leukemia.

Immunotherapy (biological therapy)

Immunotherapy is a way to help your body fight cancer by teaching your immune system to spot and destroy cancer cells. It helps your immune system do its job against cancer.

Hormone therapy

Hormone therapy is used to prevent certain cancers from growing by either removing or blocking the hormones that fuel them. It’s a common treatment for cancers like certain types of breast and prostate cancer that rely on hormones for their growth and spread.

Targeted drug therapy

Targeted drug therapy means using special drugs to stop cancer cells from growing and surviving. To know if this treatment can work for you, doctors can check your genes to see if you have the right conditions. It depends on the kind of cancer you have and the specific things going on inside your tumor.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials are like experiments to find better ways to treat cancer. They can test if existing FDA-approved drugs work for different purposes or if new drugs are helpful. These trials can be a new hope for people who didn’t get the results they wanted from regular treatments. Sometimes, you can get this treatment for free.

If you want to try it, just look for clinical trials in your area.

Alternative medicine

Alternative medicine is like a helper for people with cancer. It can make them feel better and reduce the bad things that come with cancer treatment, like feeling sick, tired, or in pain. Some examples of alternative medicine for cancer are:

  • acupuncture
  • yoga
  • massage
  • meditation
  • relaxation techniques

Outlook

Once you’re told you have cancer, how you feel about it can be influenced by various things. These can include:

  • type of cancer
  • stage of cancer at diagnosis
  • location of cancer
  • age
  • general health

Prevention

Understanding what causes cancer can help you lead a healthier life and lower your chances of getting cancer.

Ways to lower your chances of getting cancer may involve:

Avoiding tobacco and secondhand smoke limiting your intake of processed meats eating a diet that focuses mainly on plant-based foods, lean proteins, and healthy fats, such as the Mediterranean diet avoiding alcohol or drinking in moderation maintaining a moderate body weight and BMI doing regular moderate physical activity for 150 to 300 minutesTrusted Source per week staying protected from the sun by avoiding direct sun exposure and wearing a broad spectrum sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses avoiding tanning beds getting vaccinated against viral infections that can lead to cancer, such as hepatitis B and HPV.

See a doctor regularly to check for different types of cancer. This helps find any cancers early.

Takeaway

Cancer is a group of serious diseases that happen when your body’s cells start acting strangely because of changes in their genes. These weird cells can grow too fast and create lumps called tumors.

Certain behaviors and health conditions can increase your chances of getting cancer. These include smoking, drinking alcohol, not being active, eating unhealthy foods, having a high BMI (being overweight), and getting infected by specific viruses and bacteria.

Screenings can find cancer early, making it easier to treat. The treatment and outcome for cancer patients depend on the type, stage of diagnosis, and their age and overall health.

 

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