Understanding The Basics Of Cancer: How, When And Why
It’s common that someone understands cancer as a general concept and not as something concrete. We know what cancer is in a very basic sense; we see it as something destructive and it instills fear in us. We know that it can be deadly, and we fear death for many valid reasons. There are many reasons that most people don’t understand cancer outside of this very broad, emotional spectrum and not in scientific terms.
The first may be self-explanatory — most people aren’t equipped to understand the scientific verbiage necessary to explain cancer in the most accurate way possible. Doctors go to specialized schools in order to learn about cancer itself, so how can a layman be expected to immediately grasp how cancer work?
Thankfully many online resources exist that can explain cancer in basic yet informative ways. Here we’ll dive into the more technical, medical aspects of cancer so you can be informed about how cancer occurs, when people are most at risk for cancer and what can cause certain types of cancer.
What is cancer? Basic cancer information.
Simply put, cancer is the abnormal growth of cells that then shut out your body’s normal cells. They rapidly multiply and make it harder for your body to perform the tasks it needs to. The more rapidly the cells grow, and the type of cells that grow, dictate the type of cancer a person has. Cancer can be found anywhere in the body, from skin cells to bone marrow cells.
These cells grow and expand in certain parts of the body, like your liver, but they can also travel through the body and affect other areas of it where they land, like your lungs.
It’s a common misconception that a cancer can create other forms of cancer. For instance, a cancerous cell system that starts in your liver and moves to your lungs is still liver cancer. Cancer is named for the place where the cells first multiple; a new cancer is present when cancer starts somewhere else and appears different from another present form of cancer.
Thus, cancers are very different based on where they first spawn, how fast they grow and how well they can be eliminated or put into remission via drugs. Some cancers grow slowly, some grow and spread fast. Some can be easily eradicated with chemotherapy, some are completely resistant to current cancer drug regimens. Many forms of cancer are treated with chemotherapy, radiation or removal of a cancerous tumor, but not all cancers can be treated equally.
Cancer is also a unique disease in that typical forms of cancer develop in stages. A cancer’s stage speaks to how far it’s spread from where it’s started. Stage 1 cancer is cancer that has barely spread or that hasn’t spread at all, while Stage 4 denotes cancer that has spread to as many places as it can go.
When do people get cancer? Cancer and Age
Many cancer patients are older, and the ages when people should get tested for cancer reflect that. Most doctors begin recommending breast cancer screenings for women when they turn 40, and similarly men are supposed to receive prostate cancer exams at around age 45. As a person ages, they risk their cells beginning to break down and multiple at faster rates.
However, you still see children, young adults and those outside of their middle-aged years diagnosed with cancer — why is that, when it’s typically an older person’s disease? In some cases, an older patient has done something to cause the cancer, like smoking. In younger children and others, it’s just an issue of cell growth. Anyone can get cancer, and a person’s likelihood of getting cancer increases via their lifestyle and genetics.
What causes cancer? Cancer Risk Factors
As touched lightly upon in the above section, cancer can be caused by a variety of things. Some catalysts for cancer a person can control, like smoking in regards to lung cancer. Some STIs can cause cancer, like HPV. Cancer can be caused by a myriad of different exposures, and sensationalist news pieces repeatedly claim that certain foods are guaranteed to cause you cancer later in life.
While living a healthy lifestyle is the best way to ensure you are less likely to get cancer, cancer dodges no one — it can sometimes be entirely up to chance. An extremely healthy person can still develop a form of cancer if they’re genetically predisposed to cancer, and sometimes it’s just a question of abnormal cell growth.
Still, we all owe it to ourselves to try and lead very healthy lives in order to reduce that risk. Avoid smoking, tanning, excessive junk food consumption, unsafe sex and other unhealthy lifestyle practices can better someone’s odds at not being diagnosed with cancer, and it’s important to give yourself a fighting chance when it comes to beating those odds