The human body is comprised of trillions of cells – tissue cells, blood cells, skin cells, etc. Normal body cells grow, divide and die at rates determined by their DNA, the substance found in each cell that directs the cell’s activities.
Sometimes, the DNA in a cell gets damaged. While it’s possible for people to inherit damaged DNA, in many cases a person’s DNA becomes damaged by exposure to something in the environment (cigarette smoke is an example). Often, when this occurs, the body is able to repair the damage. Cancer develops when the body is unable to repair damaged DNA and the cells in a part of the body begin to grow rapidly and abnormally.
Unlike normal cells, cancer cells don’t die – instead they outlive normal cells and continue to form new abnormal cells. As the cancer cells grow, they often travel to other parts of the body where they begin to grow and replace normal tissue. Called metastasis, this process occurs as cancer cells get into the bloodstream or lymph nodes of the body. It’s important to know that when cells from a breast cancer spread to another organ like the liver, the cancer is still called breast cancer – not liver cancer.
Different types of cancer can behave very differently which is why people with cancer need treatment designed specifically for their particular kind of cancer.
Half of all men and one-third of all women in the United States will develop cancer in their lifetimes. Millions of people are living with cancer or have had it.
We know that the risk of developing most types of cancer can be reduced by changes in a person’s lifestyle, for example, by quitting smoking and by eating a more nutritious diet. There are various medications to help you with this process, consult with your doctor or pharmacist for more details.
Cancer is an abnormal growth of cells that often times interferes with normal cell behavior. Lung cancer is the most common form of cancer follwed by prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women.
The National Center for Health Statistics recently published an amazing finding. For the first time in 75 years, the total number of annual cancer deaths has dropped in the United States. There also have been 2-4% drops in the death rates of the most common cancers listed above in the past decade or so. The majority of these decreases have been attributed to decreased smoking and increased cancer screening.
Despite these encouraging developments, cancer is still occurring and is still a serious concern. Various treatment options exist and research continues to produce significant advancements. There are currently several types of radiation, chemotherapy, and surgical treatments available. The sequencing or combination of these treatments can vary depending on each individual patient’s case. It is important for patients and their loved ones to seek as much information as possible and to carefully discuss and plan their treatments.