About Cancer

What Is Cancer?

Cancer refers to any one of a large number of diseases characterized by the development of abnormal cells that divide uncontrollably and have the ability to infiltrate and destroy normal body tissue. Cancer can spread throughout your body.

Cancer refers to any malignant tumor. There are many types of cancers which can occur in nearly every organ. The pattern of growth of cancer cells often resembles a twisted and distorted version of the tissue that is arising. Before we proceed, there are a few basic terms which must be defined.

A tumor means a swelling or mass. A tumor can be benign or malignant.

Benign to a tumor which does not have the potential to spread beyond the organ it arises.

Malignant refers to a tumor which has the ability to spread or metastasize beyond the organ from which it arises.

Broadly speaking, cancers can be divided into four major categories:

  1. A carcinoma is a cancer which is derived from the lining cells, or epithelium, of an organ. There are 4 major types of epithelium in the body (Glandular, squamous, transitional, and pseudostratified). Some types are only found in a few select organs such as the lung (pseudostratified) or urinary bladder (transitional). Carcinomas can arise from any of these epithelial types. For example, breast carcinoma is most commonly derived from the lining cells of the milk producing glands. A carcinoma with a glandular growth pattern is an adenocarcinoma. Common adenocarcinomas include prostate, colon, and breast. A carcinoma with a growth pattern resembling the squamous lining cells is termed a squamous cell carcinoma. Common squamous cell carcinomas are found in the esophagus and skin. However, any of these organs may have either type of carcinoma arising from it, although these latter diagnoses are exceedingly rare.
  2. A sarcoma a cancer derived from the soft tissues of the body. Soft tissues include the fat, muscle, nerves, and connective tissue support. Although not usually soft, it also includes bone and cartilage.
  3. A lymphoma a cancer derived from the white blood cells that are present in the lymphoid tissues of the body. These sites most commonly include the lymph nodes and spleen. However, lymhomas may arise from any organ and body site.
  4. A melanoma a cancer derived from melanocytes. These are the pigment producing cells present in the skin. A mole is a benign growth of melanocytes.

Being diagnosed with cancer can be frightening. But understanding what’s going on inside your body can help you feel more in control of your disease.

Who Gets Cancer?

Cancer doesn’t discriminate when it comes to race, sex or age — anyone can get cancer. The ACS estimates that half the men and one-third of the women in the United States will develop cancer in their lifetimes. The ACS estimates that about 1.4 million new cases of cancer are expected in 2007, and about 560,000 people will die of the disease.

What Causes Cancer?

Cancer begins with damage (mutations) in your DNA. Your DNA is like a set of instructions for your cells, telling them how to grow and divide. Normal cells often develop mutations in their DNA, but they have the ability to repair most of these mutations. Or, if they can’t make the repairs, the cells often die. However, certain mutations aren’t repaired, causing the cells to grow and become cancerous. Mutations also cause cancer cells to live beyond a normal cell life span. This causes the cancerous cells to accumulate.

The initial genetic mutation is just the beginning of the process by which cancer develops. Scientists believe you need a number of changes within your cells in order to develop cancer, including:

  • An initiator to cause a genetic mutation. Sometimes you’re born with this initial genetic mutation. Other times a genetic mutation is caused by forces within your body, such as hormones, viruses and chronic inflammation. Genetic mutations can also be caused by forces outside of your body, such as ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens) in your environment.
  • A promoter to cause rapid cell growth. take advantage of genetic mutations created by initiators. Promotors cause cells to divide rapidly. This could lead to a tumor. Promoters could be inherited, could come from inside your body or could come from outside your body.
  • A progressor to cause cancer to become aggressive and spread. Without a progressor a tumor may remain benign and localized. Progressors make cancers more aggressive and more likely to spread. Like initiators and promoters, progressors could be inherited or they could come from environmental sources.

Your genetic makeup, forces within your body, your lifestyle choices and your environment can all set the stage for cancer or help complete the process once it’s started. For instance, if you’ve inherited a genetic mutation that predisposes you to cancer, you may be more likely than other people to develop cancer when exposed to a certain cancer-causing substance. The genetic mutation begins the cancer process, and the cancer-causing substance could play a role in further cancer development. Likewise, smokers who work with asbestos are more likely to develop lung cancer than smokers who don’t work with asbestos because the two carcinogens both play roles in cancer development.

What Increases Your Risk of Cancer?

While doctors have an idea of what can put you at risk of cancer, the majority of cancers occur in people who don’t have any known risk factors. Factors known to increase your risk of cancer include:

Your habits: Certain lifestyle choices are known to increase your risk of cancer. Smoking, drinking more than one drink a day (for women) or two drinks a day (for men), excessive exposure to the sun or frequent blistering sunburns, and having unsafe sex can contribute to cancer. You can break these habits to lower your risk of cancer — though some habits are easier to break than others.

Your family history: About 10 percent of cancers are due to an inherited condition. If cancer is common in your family, it’s possible that mutations are being passed from one generation to the next. You might be a candidate for genetic screening to see whether you have inherited mutations that might increase your risk of cancer. Keep in mind that having an inherited genetic mutation doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get cancer.

Your health conditions: Some chronic health conditions, such as ulcerative colitis, can markedly increase your risk of developing certain cancers. Talk to your doctor about your risk.

Your health conditions: Some chronic health conditions, such as ulcerative colitis, can markedly increase your risk of developing certain cancers. Talk to your doctor about your risk.

Warning Symptoms and Signs of Cancers

  1. A sore or ulcer that does not heal, increases in size, bleeds or becomes painful
  2. Change in bowel or bladder frequency, change in color of stool, diarrhea or constipation; blood in urine or stools.
  3. Unusual bleeding or discharge in urine or stools; discharge (particularly if blood stained) from any part of the body, e.g., nipples, urethra or vagina; bleeding after sexual intercourse, bleeding in between menstrual cycles.
  4. Thickening or lump in breast, scrotum or elsewhere in the body
  5. Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing or feeling full after eating only a small amount of food.
  6. Obvious change in a wart or mole
  7. A cough that persists; hoarseness or change in the voice; a cough that does not go away; blood in the sputum
  8. A white or red patch in the mouth, lasting more than four weeks.

Reference: http://www.inctr.org/publications/2007_v07_n04_w01.shtml

How Does Cancer Grow?

Normal, healthy cells in your body grow in a very orderly and well-controlled way, living for a set period of time and then dying on schedule. When a normal cell dies, your body replaces it with another normal cell. Cancer cells grow in an uncontrolled manner. They forget to die and therefore the diseased cells accumulate. One malignant cell becomes two, two become four, four become eight, and so on, until a mass of cells (a tumor) is created. Tumors remain small until they’re able to attract their own blood supply, which allows them to obtain the oxygen and nutrients they need to grow larger.

Not all tumors are cancerous, and not all cancers form tumors. For example, leukemia is a cancer that involves blood, bone marrow, the lymphatic system and the spleen, but doesn’t form a single mass or tumor.

Cancer can also spread (metastasize) and invade healthy tissue in other areas of your body.

Cancer can take decades to develop. By the time a cancerous mass is detected, it’s likely that 100 million to 1 billion cancer cells are present, and the original cancer may have been dividing for five years or more.

How To Diagnose Cancer

The only way to diagnose cancer is to examine the cells under a microscope. Some imaging tests, such as computerized tomography (CT) or mammography, can indicate the possible presence of cancer by showing an abnormal mass, but cancer can be definitively diagnosed only by looking closely at the cancer cells under a microscope.

Your doctor uses a surgical process called a biopsy to get a sample of suspect tissue.

Under the microscope, normal cells look uniform, with similar sizes and orderly organization. Cancer cells look less orderly, with varying sizes and without apparent organization.

Please click on the following links for more information on symptoms, research, treatment and other aspects of cancer:

How To Live A Healthy Life

Eat Less: In animal studies, reducing calories increased life expectancy and delayed age-related disease.

While this hasn’t been proven in humans, we do know that modest reductions in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol help maintain a healthy weight… and reduce the risks for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke — three leading causes of premature death.

Eat several small meals during the day instead of three large ones… or eat from a smaller plate so that it appears you have more food.

Put your fork down after every bite. This encourages you to eat more slowly, giving your stomach time to signal your brain that you are full.

Boost Your Consumption of Fruits and Vegetables: A diet rich in produce halves your risk of developing certain cancers.

But that doesn’t mean you’re restricted to broccoli and apples. Every week, try to buy at least one fruit or vegetable that you’ve never tried before and integrate it into your regular meals.

Examples: Mango salsa with fish or chicken… tomatillos in salad… or red, yellow and orange peppers mixed with cilantro and a bit of vinegar for an interesting salad.

Consume Less Fat:
Limit your total fat intake to 30% of the calories you get each day. Limit saturated fat — from animal products, such as butter, eggs, meat and regular milk — to 10%.

Quit Smoking and Drink Moderately (If at all): One recent study of Kentucky centenarians found that none currently smoked, and only one had done so in the past. None of them used alcohol excessively.

Take a Daily Nutritional Supplement: This is especially important for older people to ensure an adequate intake of calcium and vitamins B-6, B-12, D and E.

Take a Daily Aspirin Tablet: One children’s aspirin (81 mg) per day reduces your risk for heart attack and stroke.

Walk in the Sun: Older people especially need regular sun exposure to get enough vitamin D. This vitamin is essential for strong bones and to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Avoid the sun from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and wear sunscreen.

Get Regular Exercise: It’s critical not only for weight control and cardiovascular health, but also for building strong bones. Each year, about 250,000 older Americans suffer hip fractures. Forty percent of these patients die within one year of sustaining the injury.

Biggest Culprits: Weak thighs, legs and ankles, which lead to falls. To avoid this.

Track Your Steps: Wear an electronic pedometer to measure how many steps you take every day. You can purchase a pedometer at a sporting-goods store. Aim for 10,000 steps a day.

Use the bathroom on another floor, walk down the hall to talk to a coworker instead of E-mailing… and park your car in the farthest parking place at the mall.

Get Out the Weights: Without resistance training, muscle mass decreases by 40% between ages 30 and 70. Consult a personal trainer for a customized weight-training routine.

Regularly using hand weights reduces flab and fragility and increases life expectancy. Ankle weights can help build up your thigh muscles.

Stand on One Foot: Better yet, learn how to catch a ball while standing on one foot. It improves your balance, which reduces your risk of falling.

Get More Sleep: Natures own fountain of youth — human growth hormone — is produced during sleep. We make less of it as we age, so get as much sleep as you can.

Relax: Today’s world is faster and more complex than ever. Excessive stimulation wreaks havoc on the immune system, setting the stage for such age-related diseases as cancer and hypertension.

Try Eastern relaxation methods — yoga, tai chi or meditation.

Stay Connected: People who live with someone else live longer. It may be because there’s someone there to care for you if you get sick, to pick up prescriptions and call a doctor. But it also may be that the emotional connection strengthens your own resolution to survive.

Find a Purpose: People who have goals for which they actively strive live longer and enjoy a better quality of life.

Exercise Your Brain: Crossword puzzles, computer games, returning to school and writing your autobiography are all good ways to make sure that the most important “muscle” in your body gets exercised.


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