Latest posts by Dr Navneet Goyal (see all)
WHAT IS CANCER?
Introduction: What is Cancer?
It’s about the most widely Googled medical topic: What is Cancer? I welcome you to learn about cancer in the most simplified way. You might be a healthcare service provider who wants to explore further or are just someone interested in the topic. My idea is to provide a little comprehensive knowledge to the visitors who are not well versed with the medical terms. In the end of this post, I would be provoking you to ask the most important questions from your physician if you’re diagnosed with the one. Welcome, we hope the site provides the information you need.
Cancer is a word which is widely misunderstood by the common people. Various myths have added worldly effects to its entity. Though medical science has evolved to the extent of knowing the molecular basis of its cause; but it remains an enigma in the world outside medicine!
I will be disclosing one of the most astonishing secrets about What is cancer, in the most simplified way. The simplest definition of What is cancer:
“It is the excessive growth of the normal tissue that leads to cancer.”
So, what is the difference between a cancer cell and a normal cell? And What is Cancer?
A normal cell is controlled by a supreme commander called DNA (Deoxyribo Nucleic Acid). This lies inside every cell in the chromosomes and is the authoritarian of every cell division. Apart from normal cell division, one of the other important functions of DNA is that it has various genes which are genetically programmed to code for normal proteins, hormones, etc for the human body requirements. This is very similar to a programmed software designed to act in a particular format. When this DNA gets denatured or destranded, the normal coding genes also gets corrupt. Then they code for the abnormal proteins which triggers the cells to behave violently superseding all rules laid by the DNA. They divide continuously forgetting about their actual destined task and forms a collected lump of abnormally growing cells called cancer.
Now about the Secrets: What is Cancer, I have collected the best ones that you can understand. Here I go:
1. It can occur in any part of the body
This is the most acceptable fact regarding this is; Practically speaking any organ, any tissue and any cell type can give rise to Cancer. Be it the mouth cavity or the bones; every tissue inside the human body is capable of producing such abnormal growth under some adverse exposures giving rise to cancer.
2. It has TWO varieties: Benign and Malignant
More oftenly, the word ‘Tumor’ is used by the Doctors to denote the ‘Benign’ form of growth. “BENIGN?? WHAT’S THAT??” Well, the tissue growth is categorized into two varieties: First, which is silently growing in its size, not involving adjacent tissues and does not spread to the farthest sites despite of its large size. That’s Benign! Also called as Tumor by the doctors. Second, which is violent, quickly spreading to the nearby structures and to the farthest parts of the body. That’s Malignant! This is the true form of ‘What is Cancer‘ that we know today.
Question arises: How do Cancers spread to the farthest sites in the body?
For every spread, there is a carrier. Here in this case it is any three of them: Blood, Lymph or Direct spread! This carrier spreads the cancer tissues to other sites of the body where it isn’t supposed to be. When such spread happens to other body organs, it’s a clean Check Mate! This is what we call a Final staged Cancer, and practically there’s no turning back!
3. What is Cancer? How is it caused?
This is what remains the most widely searched medical topic!
As far as cause of cancer is concerned, nowhere in the common text I have read about it in a simple manner. The simplest known truth about What is cancer: “Cancer doesn’t spread person-to-person.” Not even its wildest variety! There are only two major causes: Genetic and Environmental.
Genetic causes are those which have direct influence over the genetic makeover of the human body. The DNA strand already contains an ‘abnormal’ gene that codes for a preset abnormal protein synthesis, hence causing abnormal cells that do not obey the command of normal DNA of the cells; resulting in abnormal growth of the cells and tissues causing cancer.
In simpler terms, DNA, the supreme commander of the gene flow and normal protein synthesis has abnormal gene that codes for abnormal proteins in the cells. Hence, when abnormal proteins are synthesized in the cells, they do not recognize the supremacy of the ‘Normal DNA.’ These abnormal proteins reside in the cells and trigger these cells to behave abnormally and multiply uncontrollably. In other varieties, DNA of the body cells gets permanently damaged beyond repair that triggers the cells to respond to such abnormal activity. Ovarian and Breast cancer have inheritance in first degree relatives commonly termed as Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndromme (HBOC).
Environmental causes are the factors that have no genetic influence over the cancer cells, but causes cancer due to exposure of the body to certain harmful toxins, radiations, infections (viruses), or occupational exposure to certain chemicals. This causes ‘Change’ in the DNA segment of the cells thus coding for abnormal proteins hence triggering these cells to behave violently and multiply uncontrollably. This environment exposure can be abrupt (mutation) or gradual (variation) depending upon the intensity and frequency of exposure to the harmful agent to the body.
The biggest myth on this planet is regarding eating superfoods and prevention of cancer. There is no scientific evidence of claiming that superfoods like Garlic, Broccoli, Green Tea, Wheatgrass, Beetroot, etc prevent cancer.
4. Spread and deaths by site and sex
According to the American Cancer Society, declared in 2015, the most common cancer effecting in both the sexes is Lung cancer. While other major cancer sites are Breast Cancer in females whereas Prostate cancer in the males. In India, Cancer of the Oral cavity (India) remains high due to the habit of tobacco chewing.
According to WHO factsheets updated in February 2015; Among men, the 5 most common sites of cancer diagnosed in 2012 were lung, prostate, colorectum, stomach, and liver cancer. Among women the 5 most common sites diagnosed were breast, colorectum, lung, cervix, and stomach cancer.
Lung cancer statistics say that Hungary had the highest rate of lung cancer, followed by Serbia and Democratic Republic of Korea in 2012. And 85% times the cause is Smoking.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide and Belgium had the highest rate of breast cancer, followed by Denmark and France in 2012.
Prostate cancer has the highest incidence in Martinique, followed by Norway and France.
Women become susceptible to developing Cervical cancer following HPV infection (A virus called Human Papilloma Virus), but other environmental factors are required for the cancer to develop. Malawi had the highest rate of cervical cancer, followed by Mozambique and Comoros. About 84 per cent of cervical cancer cases occurred in less developed countries.
Some Unknown facts relating Cancer and eating patterns around the world:
Consumption of red and processed meat has been associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
Body fatness influences the levels of a number of hormones and growth factors, leading to the birth of many cancer in the body. Liver cirrhosis followed by Liver cancer is common due to Obesity causing NASH. Risk of Gall Bladder cancer is also increased in obese people.
Intake of high amounts of salts in form of pickled food and canned items cause stomach cancer as it causes Infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori.This bacteria thrives well in acidic environment and hence multiplying well in the stomach wall causing ulcers and cancer.
Alcohol increases the risk of cancer of the liver, oesophagus, mouth, throat (pharynx and larynx), breast, as well as bowel cancer in men. It also probably increases the risk of liver cancer and bowel cancer (in women).
5. Tumor suppressor genes- A Reality
Well, this is one masterpiece which no physician ever tells you!
Tumor Suppressor Gene!! What is it?
To start with, practically every cell in the body is insured against getting cancer which is due to carriage of few typical gene families in the body named as Tumor Suppressor Genes. They remain in the DNA, and guard against virtually every kind of cancer. But, if they get deactivated or de-stranded; by external stimulus or by defective gene expression, they lose the ability to protect against that very specific cancer which they were previously programmed to fight. Thus, defective proteins are produced leading to irrational behavior of the cells, letting them multiply uncontrollably causing cancer.
6. Symptoms are non specific
Cancer patients can present from being totally asymptomatic to completely fragile. It depends upon the type of cancer, its extent and its severity at the time of diagnosis. Some may present only with mild fever, loss of appetite and lethargic; while others may present with severely debilitating illness associated with body hormonal and electrolyte fluctuations commonly called as Paraneoplastic Syndromes in Medicine.
7. Few Occupation related cancers
Occupational exposure for prolonged periods can predispose a person to cancer. Most common is Lung mesothelioma which is prevalent in occupations exposing to Arsenic (Fungicides, Herbicides, Alloys and Semiconductor devices) and Asbestos (Floor Tiling, Friction materials and Roofing papers). Radon, Nickel, beryllium and Chromium can also lead to similar patterns of lung cancers. Asbestos is a leading agent causing occupational cancer in lung, skin, stomach and intestines. WHO has been working for the development of policy on elimination of Asbestos-related-diseases.
Top 5 questions which you need to ask your specialist when you are diagnosed with cancer
- Type of cancer which you have?
- Site of cancer?
- Propensity to spread to other parts of the body?
- Treatment options, duration of treatment and their side-effects?
- Staging of your cancer and aim of treatment?
Current trend to diagnose the cancer is by Histology, Cytology, Imaging, Endoscopy, Molecular diagnosis, Flow cytometry, Tumor markers and Immunohistochemistry
Cancer is a curse! A devil! It’s a sure shot killer unless you’re lucky. You don’t have any control over the genetic causes; it’s like born unlucky! But you can surely protect yourself from the environmental causes. The most important being Smoking! SMOKING KILLS! It’s the most easily available poison in the market, and the cheapest too! It gives rise to hundreds of destructing elements sure enough to cause cancer in almost any part of the body. And this is the most common carcinogen available today, that explains: What is Cancer?
The treatment of cancer is widely known as either any of them or the combination of them: Surgery, Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy. But very less people knows that it is not true to every cancer. Some cancers may be resistant to radiotherapy or chemotherapy; it’s because of what cell lineage they arise from. This also varies according to the staging of the cancer. Moreover, the side-effects may be injurious and annoying to the patient, but the simple YET only fact is:
“WE DO NOT COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND, WHAT IS CANCER AND THIS IS THE ONLY HOPE OF OUR SURVIVAL!”