Exactly what is Cancer?

When a diagnosis of cancer is communicated, the first thought generally is “How long do I have to live?” Cancer is a scary diagnosis, but it does not have to be.

Scientifically, cancer is a category of diseases caused by cell growth that is manic or out of control. Over 100 types of cancers are on the books and each type is classified by the kind of cell that is affected.

When damaged cells divide nonstop and form masses of tissues or tumors, these masses can grow and cause problems with the nervous, digestive, circulatory or brain system. Damaged and uncontrollable cells release hormones that alter the body’s functions. However, if a tumor remains small and stays in one area they are generally benign and may be painful, but are not life-threatening.

The tumors you need to keep your eye on are those tumors that move throughout the body using the lymph or blood systems. These damaged cells destroy healthy tissue; almost like an invading army. Oncologists or cancer doctors label the growing and expanding process as angiogenesis.

As the tumor spreads to other parts of the body and grows, destroys and invades healthy tissues it is metastasized. When the tumor reaches this state, it is difficult to treat and invasive measures must be taken. It is interesting to note that only 10 percent of cancer deaths are caused by tumors at the original site. When cancer moves and reattaches to other sites in the body this is when the fight for life begins.

How Cancers Spread

In the magazine Nature Communications (October 2012) it is reported that an element concerning why cancer cells spread has been discovered. Basic molecular interaction between different scales and the methods that hold them in place become “unstuck” at the original tumor point. Tumors become dislodged, travel through blood or lymphatic steams and attach at a new site. Now the questions is how to find a way to stop cancer cells from “unsticking” at old sites and “sticking” to new sites.

Causes of Cancers

Cancer is the result of cells uncontrollably growing and not dying off. Normal cells in your body have a pattern or growth, division, and death. Apoptosis or cell death is normal and when this process is broken, cancer begins to form. Cancer cells to not go through normal birth, growth, and death processes but rage out of control. Now you have an abnormal mass of cells. Cells can grow uncontrollably if there are damages or mutations to DNA.

Four types of genes are accountable for the cells birth, division and death. Oncogenes trigger when cells are to schedule to divide, tumor suppressor genes inform cells when not to divide, and suicide genes demand that the cell kill itself if there is something wrong. Finally DNA-repair genes give the go ahead to repair damaged DNA. If mutations occur in any of these steps, DNA is unable to be repaired and cancer cells grow.

Carcinogens are substances responsible for damaging DNA and promoting cancer. Carcinogens can include tobacco, arsenic, asbestos, radiation, the sun, and exhaust fumes form automobiles. Free radicals form in the body due to carcinogens and these radicals steal electrons from molecules in the body. Free radicals damage cells and stop them from functioning on a scheduled basis.

Family genes are also culprits of cancers. Genetic predisposition can be inherited and you can be born with genetic mutations or a fault in a gene that makes you statistically at risk to develop cancer.

There are additional medical factors that increase your risk for cancer mutation in DNA. Age is an important risk factor. As you grow older you may find that your cells become weak and are susceptible to damage. Human papillomavirus causes cervical cancer and hepatitis B and C are causes of liver cancers. Epstein-Barr may cause some childhood cancers and human immunodeficiency virus or HIV can suppress the immune system and open the door to certain types of cancers.

Cancer Symptoms

Cancer symptoms vary and depend on where the cancer is located, where it has spread, and how large the tumor or mass is. You can feel some cancers through your skin such as a lump on a breast or testicle. .Skin cancers or melanomas are triggered by changes in warts or moles on the skin and there may be white patches inside your mouth that signals oral cancer.

There are other types of tumors that are not physically apparent. These include brain tumors that present symptoms that affect cognitive functions. Pancreatic cancers are much too small to by produce symptoms until there is intense pain and pushing on nearby nerves. If you find that you have interference with liver function, your skin and eyes are yellow, you may have pancreatic cancer. As tumor grows and push on organs and blood vessels you may have symptoms of constipation or diarrhea or changes in stool size.

Cancer cells use the body’s energy to interfere with hormone functions. You may find that fevers, fatigue, excessive sweating and anemia plus weight loss are symptoms of cancer. If you are coughing more and very hoarse you may have lung or throat cancer.

Additional symptoms include swollen and enlarged lymph nodes or if you are in the first stages of brain cancer you may find that vertigo, seizures and headaches are common. Lung cancer may present in intense coughing and shortness of breath. Liver cancer causes jaundice and bones are often painful, brittle and can break easily. Any symptom of metastasis depends on the locality of the cancer.

Categories of Cancers

Five main groups are used to classify the level of cancer in your body. These include:

  1. Carcinomas that are characterized by cells that cover external as well as internal parts of the body. These include the lung, brats, and colon.
  2. Sarcomas are those cells located in cartilage, fat, connective tissues, muscles and bones.
  3. Lymphomas begin in the lymph nodes and immune system tissues.
  4. Leukemias start in the bone marrow and accumulate in the blood stream.
  5. Adenomas start in the thyroid, the pituitary glands, and adrenals and other glands.

Levels of Cancers

Early detection of cancer will improve the odds of survival and treatment. Using information from symptoms as well as PET, MRI and CT scans plus x-rays, and ultrasound scans the stage and type of cancer can be diagnosed. Your physician can also use an endoscopes or a procedure that looks at abnormalities inside your body as a diagnostic tool.

A biopsy or extracting cells and viewing them under a microscope are the absolute ways to diagnose cancer. You may also have your body’s fats, proteins, and DNA plus sugars analyzed to determine what types of cancer cells are massing inside you. Blood tests for prostate cancer or prostate-specific antigens (PSA) that are in your bloodstream may denote cancer. Most forms of diagnosis – biopsies, imaging techniques and molecular diagnosis – are used together to absolutely verify cancer problems.

The stage or level of cancer is the determining factor in the treatments. The TNM system is used to specify the level with T 1-4 indicating the size and extent of the primary tumor, N 0-3 gives a degree to cancer moving into nearby lymph nodes, and M 0-1 labels whether or not hte cancer has metastasized.  A beginning cancer tumor might be labeled as T1, N0, and M0 which means the tumor is contained at this point in time.

TNM also describes the stages. 0-4 indicates cancer cells have not spread and indicates the most curable stage. Stage 4 indicates large and/or dire tumors that may not be treatable. No matter what stage the cancer manifests itself, you will be treated according to the stage. Ensure that you keep doctor appointments, have yearly exams, and report any changes in moles, lumps, or intuitive feelings to your doctor. The earlier cancer is detected, the higher the chances of a cure.

HealthStatus Team

HealthStatus has been operating since 1998 providing the best interactive health tools on the Internet, millions of visitors have used our health risk assessment, body fat and calories burned calculators.The HealthStatus editorial team has continued that commitment to excellence by providing our visitors with easy to understand high quality health content for many years.
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