Cancers are diseases that are characterized by the rapid spread and mutation of certain cells of the body. We tend to think of cancers as being foreign to the body, but they are, in fact, made of our own cells, though they have mutated. Different cancers have different causes. Exposure to toxins, radiation, and certain viruses can all cause changes to DNA structure in individual cells, resulting in the rapid and atypical spread of cells.
Cancers are classed by the tissues that mutated to form them. There are numerous types. Carcinoma is the most common, and is made up of cells that would normally function in our lungs, breasts, prostates, and colons. When cancerous cells, which are atypical, form and rapidly produce in these areas, we get lung, breast, prostate or colon cancer.
Lymphoma forms tumors made from bone marrow and blood cells. This type may also be called Leukemia. Sarcomas are made up of tissue that forms cartilage, bone and blood. The cells that line our lungs and perineum can, if mutated, create mesothelioma. Brain cells that create tumors usually are called glioma. Ovarian and testicular cancer is called germinoma, and forms from “germ” cells, those cells that make up our ovaries and testicles.
Risk of cancer increases as we age, and in developed countries, the leading cause of death is usually cancer. As we age, we have more exposure to the types of things that cause cancer, and since most developed countries have people with fairly long life spans, this means that the likelihood of getting cancer increases. Certain behaviors definitely increase our risk of getting certain types of cancers. Carcinoma in any part of the body is linked to cigarette smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol, and carrying extra weight. We are much more likely to develop the many forms of skin cancer if we are not careful about sun exposure.
Some people are genetically predisposed toward getting certain cancers. A few tests can determine if you have genetic risk factors for developing breast, stomach, or urinary tract cancer. It is good to remember that genetic predisposition does not mean a person will get cancer, but increases the risk factors for certain forms of cancer.
The most common cancers in the United States are prostate cancer for men, and breast cancer for women. Yet, lung cancer is the most common cause of death related to cancer in both groups. The most common cancer among children is leukemia, and some alarming studies suggest that the number of children getting any form of cancer is growing.
Sometimes cells can produce tumors or bodies that are not cancerous. These are called benign, and can be classed under a number of names. Unlike true cancer, they are not linked to death and do not metastasize (move to other parts of the body and begin new growths). One of the most difficult aspects of treating cancer is its ability to spread from its place of origin to form new growths of cells in other parts of the body.
Some cancers remain extremely difficult to treat, with high rates of mortality associated with them. Lung cancer remains an often fatal form of cancer. The trouble with many cancers is that they may not be caught until the cancer has metastasized. Finding cancer at the earliest stage possible usually improves the probability of stopping it.
Cancers in all their forms continue to challenge the medical community, and all of us, because they can silently begin to destroy our bodies before symptoms ever emerge. Even though millions of dollars are spent each year on cancer research, we still have not found the silver bullet that will cure all cancer (if one exists), and in some cases we are not even close to curing certain forms of the disease.