Monday, September 10, 2012

What is Cancer

Today, I'm going to briefly answer a huge question: What is cancer?
Cancer, also called a "malignent neoplam", is a broad group of diseases (over 200). It is characterized by uncontrolled cell growth, both as a primary tumor and as metasicized tumors. These cancer cells can break off and spread to other body systems and organs, including the blood and lymphatic system. While these types of uncontrolled tumors are cancerous, some tumors are benign, meaning they don't spread, invade or grow uncontrolled.
The causes and mechanisms of cancer are very complex, and are not completely known. Some cancers are caused by environmental factors, known as carcinogens. Carcinogens are a broad group of toxic chemicals, found in a variety of places, especially in cigarettes/tabacco products and industrial chemicals. These carcinogens denature/change the cell, which alone can be enough to cause cancer. Other times, an already present genetic defect is needed to completely denature the cell and form cancer. Additionally, cancers can be caused by viral, bacterial or parasitic infections, such as HPV and hepatitis B and C. Still other cancers are entirely heretidary or genetically based (5-10% over all). Many pediatric cancers are caused by genetics, especially mutations and defects in the onco and tumor supressing genes.
So, when the cell is denatured, by one or more of these effects, it can begin to divide uncontrolled. Normally cell division has a variety of checks that keep the cells in line. However, with mutations and changes to the cell, these checks may become damaged or stop functioning altogether. This is cancer. An uncontrolled cell growth.
The cell continues to grow and divide, and it forms a tumor. If the tumor grows big enough, or is otherwise disrupted, it can break apart. These new pieces can travel through the body and grow in another place. These new tumors are called metasticized tumors, and they make the cancer much harder to treat. Unfortunately, up to 80% of children diagnosed with cancer have a metastic disease.
So what are the syptoms of cancer? Well, it's a long range, and certain syptoms are very generic, such as headaches, colds, fevers, bruises and lethargy. Certain more obvious syptoms come with certain cancers, such as hard lumps under skin, seizures, psychosis, paralysis, and abnormal bleeding/bruising. This is one reason childhood cancers are often diagnosed at a later stage: their syptoms blend in with the average childhood ills. It's when many of them pile up that cancer is diagnosed, or when something big happens, such as a seizure or a large growth.
So how do we prevent cancer? Well, nothing is a sure fire way to prevent childhood cancer, but there are ways to keep you and your family healthy.
  1. No Smoking!!!!!!!! about 30% of cancers are caused by smoking. It's not worth the risk, especially since there are so few (if any) benefits.
  2. Avoid carcinogens. Not sure if something is carcinogenic? Look it up. It's all over the internet.
  3. Eat right and stay healthy.
  4. Be alert for changes in health, mood and day to day activity that can signify childhood cancer.
  5. Avoid excess radiation. Duh!
  6. Know your family history. If you or your children are at higher risk of developing cancer, take extra precautions to avoid cancer causing agents.
New diagnostic tests and genetic screening are becoming availible. You can have a large portion of your genome sequenced for under $400, and it will tell you your genetic risk for cancers, diabetes, heart problems, drug interactions, ect. Note: this does not take into account family history or lifestyle. Perhaps someday a screening will be availible to detect all genetic mutations, and genetic therapy will be availible to prevent cancer. Perhaps. in the mean time, keep healthy, avoid toxic chemicals and spread awareness to end cancer.

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