What is Cancer? How does it Cause and Spread
Cancer is one of the dangerous diseases faced nowadays. In this article we will discuss, how is cancer caused and how does it spread!
What is cancer?
Cancer develops when the body’s normal control mechanism stops working.
Old cells do not die and instead grow out of control, forming new, abnormal cells.
Treatment options depend on the type of cancer, its stage, if the cancer has spread and your general health.
The goal of treatment is to kill as many cancerous cells while reducing damage to normal cells nearby. Advances in technology make this possible.
The number of cells in a tissue is determined by the balance between cell division and cell death.
Uncontrollable cell division leads to formation of abnormal growths called tumors.
A disease that can develop anywhere in the body. Cancer cells ignore the body’s normal growth controls.
They divide, forming new abnormal cells that grow out of control. These extra cells may form a mass of tissue, called a tumor. Some cancers, such as leukemia, do not form tumors.
How is Cancer Caused ?
Tumors can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors are slow-growing and constrained by surrounding connective tissue so they do not spread to other organs.
They can still be harmful or even kill by pressing on nearby nerves, brain tissue or blood vessels.
Examples Of Benign Tumor :
Examples of benign tumors include pituitary tumors which may press on optic nerves and cause loss of vision.
Cancers are malignant tumors. Tumors can spread beyond the limit of the original organ where it comes from and to other organs of the body.
When cancer spreads to a new part of the body, the process is called metastasis.
Thanks to scientific advances, treatments are improving. The three most common cancer treatments are:
Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to slow growth, shrink or kill remaining cells.
Surgery removes (or extracts) the tumor.
Radiation therapy shrinks tumors and destroys cancer cells using radioactive substances or X-rays.
How Does Cancer Start ?
Cancer starts from damage in the DNA of a cell.
This DNA damage is called mutation.
Mutations happen when the cell duplicates its DNA prior to cell division and makes mistakes.
These damages are usually detected and repaired before the cell can divide but sometimes, some of them may be ignored and transferred to daughter cells.
Control Of Cell Cycle :
If the mutation is located in one of many genes that control the cell cycle, it may affect the regulation of cell cycle in the cell carrying it, and make the cell divide faster than it supposed to.
Usually, one mutation is not enough to cause cancer, but as it makes the cell cycle control less reliable, many more DNA damages/mutations would go unnoticed.
Cancer is usually the result of accumulation of many mutations of genes involved in cell cycle control and DNA repair.
This commonly happens over a long period of time, over many rounds of cell divisions, and this explains why cancers are more common in older people.
Some people are said to be predisposed to cancer. This is because they are born with a mutation that makes them more likely to develop a certain type of cancer.
This mutation alone is not enough to cause cancer but it starts the process of making cells cancerous.
The person carrying it is one step further down the road towards developing a cancer than others who do not have the mutation.
How Does Cancer Spread?
Cancer cells do not stick together like normal cells, they move and invade nearby tissues, organs, this is local spread.
They may also spread to further away organs by means of blood and lymph circulation, this is systemic spread.
Metastasis is the spreading of cancers to non-adjacent organs. Cancer cells from the original tumor, or primary cancer, can break out and may be taken up by a blood or a lymph vessel for a ride throughout the body.
They can then squeeze out from the vessels into other tissues and start a new tumor growth in the new location which will become secondary cancer.
Where do cancers usually spread and why?
While traveling in the bloodstream, cancer cell usually stops at the first place where the vessel getting so narrow that it gets stuck.
As blood flow from most organs goes to the capillaries of the lungs, this is where cancers spread the most.
Lungs are indeed the most common site of secondary cancers.
Likewise, while traveling in the lymphatic system, cancer cells commonly get stuck in the nearest lymph nodes, where the vessels get narrower.
This is the reason why surgeons usually remove nearby lymph nodes when removing tumors.
The future of cancer treatment is promising.
More targeted & precise assessments and treatments are becoming available, including:
Genomic tumor assessment examines tumors at the cellular level, revealing molecular abnormalities to help identify more targeted treatments.
Immunotherapy drugs stimulate the body’s immune system to recognize and kill cancer cells.
Adding evidence-informed supportive therapies to cancer treatments may reduce interruptions between treatments due to illness or lack of strength and helps support the patient’s quality of life before, during, and after treatment.