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What is Cancer ?

Cancer is a disease in which cells of an organ or tissue in the body become abnormal, failing to respond to normal control mechanisms, growing and multiplying out of control. Normal cells reproduce themselves throughout the body in an orderly and controlled manner. Normal growth continues throughout life to replace worn out tissue, to heal wounds, and to maintain healthy organs. When cells grow out of control, they usually form a mass, called a tumor. Some tumors grow and enlarge only at the site where they begin and these are referred to as benign tumors. Other tumors not only enlarge locally but also have the potential to invade and destroy the normal tissue around them and to spread to distant parts of the body. Such tumors are called malignant tumors or cancers. Distant spread of a cancer occurs when malignant cells become detached from the original (primary) tumor, get carried to other parts of the body through the blood or lymphatic vessels and establish themselves in the new site as an independent (secondary) cancer. A tumor that has spread in this manner is said to have metastasized and the secondary tumor (or tumors) is called a metastasis (or metastases).  

Common Causes and Risk Factors

Cancer refers to a broad group of diseases in which body cells grow out of control and are or become malignant (harmful).

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States (heart disease is first). Current estimates say that 30 percent of all Americans will develop some kind of cancer in their lifetimes. The most common forms are cancer of the skin, lungs, colon and rectum, breast, prostate, urinary tract, and uterus. Exactly what causes all cancers has not yet been found. Evidence suggests,

however, that cancer could result from complex interactions of viruses, a person's genetic make-up, their immune status and their exposure to other risk factors that may promote cancer.

These risk factors for cancer include:

  • Exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays, nuclear radiation, X-rays, and radon.
  • Use of tobacco and/or alcohol (for some cancers).
  • Use of certain medicines such as DES (a synthetic estrogen).
  • Polluted air and water.
  • Dietary factors such as a high fat diet, specific food preservatives, namely nitrates and nitrites; char-broiling and char-grilling meats.
  • Exposure to a variety of chemicals such as asbestos, benzenes, VC (vinyl chloride), wood dust, some ingredients of cigarette smoke, etc.).



Metastases: How does Cancer Spread?

Cancer tumors are called "malignant" because they have the ability to invade normal tissues (replacing healthy cells with cancer cells) and to metastasize or spread to other parts of the body. Death from cancer often comes not from the primary site (where the cancer first began) but from the metastases or the spread site. For example, a patient with stomach cancer may actually die from liver failure after the cancer has spread to that organ. more on metastases


Lifestyle to prevent cancer:

  • Do not smoke, use tobacco products or inhale second hand smoke.

  • Limit your exposure to known carcinogens such as asbestos, radon, and other workplace chemicals as well as pesticides and herbicides. Have X-rays only when necessary.

  • Limit your exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays, sun lamps and tanning booths. Protect your skin from the sun's UV rays with sunscreen (applied frequently and containing a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher) and protective clothing (sun hats, long sleeves, etc.).

  • Reduce stress. Emotional stress may weaken the immune system that is relied on to fight off stray cancer cells.

  • Adopt a healthy active lifestyle and eat a healthy well-balanced diet.


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Sources: American Institute of Preventive Medicine , BCCA Information Database



Read about Skin Cancer and Colon Cancer here


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