What is cancer?
Cancer is any disease caused by uncontrolled cell growth. Abnormal cells begin to divide and make tumours. They can spread throughout the body and slowly destroy good cells and tissues making the person sick. There are many different diseases that are called cancers. Some of these diseases are very treatable while others are more dangerous and can be fatal. Around 40% of all people will be diagnosed with cancer some time during their lives.
Cancer starts in the cell
Cancer starts when the genes in a cell that regulate cell growth are somehow altered or mutated. It actually takes a number of mutations before a cell becomes cancerous. Typically, the cells are smart enough to get rid of mutations. They have complex ways of safeguarding against mutations and will kill off bad cells. However, if the right series of mutations occur, the cells will begin to grow uncontrollably.
Types of cancer
Cancer is really a term used to describe a number of different diseases. There are more than 200 different types of cancer. Typically, cancers are named after the place in the body where the cancer first began. For example, lung cancer is cancer that started in the lungs. There are then different types of lung cancers with long scientific names such as “well differentiated squamous cell carcinoma of the lung” and “small cell carcinoma of the lung.”
Common forms of cancer
Cancer of the breast that usually forms in the tubes and glands that carry and make milk. It is much more common in women than in men.
Cancer of the colon, which is part of the large intestine.
Cancer of the blood that often starts in the bone marrow.
Cancer of the white blood cells that help to form the immune system. It is often found in the lymph nodes, the spleen, or the blood marrow.
Cancer of the lungs. It is most commonly, but not always, caused by smoking.
Cancer of the skin or other pigmented areas (like the eye). It is often caused by too much exposure to the Sun's harmful rays.
Cancer that forms in the pancreas organ.
Cancer that forms in the prostate. Only men have prostates and typically get this cancer when they are older.
(Continued next week)