Cancer

Cancer essentially means a malignant tumor. It is capable of progressive growth, unrestricted by the original host organ. It is also capable of spreading via the lymphatic system or through the blood stream resulting in secondary deposits called metastases. Microscopically Cancer cells appear primitive. They have a lesser degree of differentiation when compared to normal cells. This is indicative of their disorganized alignment and fast proliferation feature. Simply put, they are easy and quick to replicate.  Malignant tumors are caused by a group of cells that have uncontrolled growth. Their invasion intrudes and destroys adjacent tissues. These 3 properties of cancer differentiate malignant tumors from benign tumors. They do not grow uncontrollably, directly invade locally, or metastasize throughout the lymph nodes to body sites like the brain, bones, liver, or other organs.

Cancers are classified according to the cell type they derive from and the organ where they originate. Andenocarcinomas are in  the epithelium (surface tissue). Carcinomas originate in glandular tissue. Sarcomas affect bone, cartilage and connective tissues.  The causes of cancer are divided into two main groups; environmental and hereditary or genetic. Cancer is primarily an environmental disease although genetics influences the risk of certain types greatly. Common factors leading to cancer include: smoking, infection, radiation, and pollutants. These environmental factors can cause or enhance abnormalities already present in the genetic material of cells. Cell reproduction is an extremely complex process that is usually regulated by several classes of genes. Acquired or hereditary abnormalities in these regulatory genes can lead to the development of cancer. A small percentage of cancers, approximately 5-10% are entirely hereditary. 20% of cancers in the US are caused by infections like Hepatitis B & C or HPV. 22% of cases are caused by tobacco use and 10% are the result of obesity, poor diet, alcohol or lack of physical activity.

Cancer may be suspected on the basis of clinical signs and symptoms or by findings in medical imaging. Definitive diagnosis of cancer requires a biopsy. Most cancers can be treated, with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. The prognosis can be greatly influenced by the type and location of the cancer and the extent of disease. It’s behavior and response directly correlates to how large it is and how fast it is growing. Cancer is not a single disease entity. While cancer can affect people of all ages, a few types, like leukemia and Non Hodgkin Lymphoma are more common in children than in adults. The overall risk of developing cancer generally increases with age. Family history is relevant but it also takes a cascade of changes for the the worse case scenarios to present. Cancer causes about 15% of all human deaths worldwide. That is over 8 million people. In 2012 there were 14.1 million new cases globally. Cancer rates are rising as more people live longer and major lifestyle changes occur in the developing world.

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