What Actually is Cancer?
What actually is cancer?
I have received this question countless times. Most persons want to understand, what cancer actually is. They have been hearing of cancer and different kinds of cancer. But they do not seem to understand the full import of the whole thing. They understand malaria, typhoid, HIV etc., but cancer seems mysterious that many do not understand its concept up till today.
Well by the grace of God, that’s what I will be doing justice to now. The fact that the understanding of cancer seems elusive is not by chance. That’s the nature of the disease. It has no known definite pathology, pathogenesis, or pathophysiology. It is just as it is. Let’s begin immediately.
What actually is cancer?
Cancer is an abnormal cell growth, that is out of control. I think that’s the simplest way I can define it. As we move forward you will understand what cancer is. It is beyond that definition.
The human body is made of cells. Groups of cells doing the same function form tissues. Groups of tissues form organ. Organs performing similar functions form system. The systems in the body come together and from the whole organism. The basic functional unit of the human body is the cell.
Normally, cell growth in the body is tightly regulated. The body has a way of knowing when the cell has reached its growth potential, so it will inhibit the cell from growing further.
But in cancer, one thing lead to the other, and this inhibitory mechanism is switched off. The body cannot recognize again when a cell has reached its growth potential so that it can be switched off. So a cell whose regulatory mechanism has been switched of can now grow, and grow, out of proportion. No control, no regulation, the cell continues to grow! And that is cancer for you.
What Causes Cancer?
Nothing. Lol. Yes, you heard me right. There is no definitive cause for cancer. You know, for example, Plasmodium causes malaria. Salmonella causes typhoid. HIV causes AIDs. There is no single identifiable aetiological basis for cancer.
Cancer is like a genetic accident. So if I ask, what causes accident? Is there any answer? If you say ,bad road, there are many persons that have travelled in bad road without having accidents. If you say, reckless driving, there are many reckless drivers that have not had accident before. If you say, it’s drink-driving, there are many drivers that drive on alcohol, and nothing happens to them.
So is cancer. It is an accident in the gene. The cause could be “drink-driving”, “bad road”, “reckless driving” etc. Because the causes are indeterminate, we do not talk about causes of cancers, but risk factors.
Every types of cancer is unique. And has its own risk factors. So the risk factors for cancers will be discussed when the individual cancers are being discussed.
However, let me give a general overview of the risk factors for cancers, it will be elaborated when writing on the individual cancer.
- Genetics – By virtue of having a blood relation with cancer, that’s a risk factor
- Infectious agents – human papiloma virus has been associated with cervical cancer, Helicobacter pylori has been associated with gastric cancer.
- Smoking – The single most important risk factor for premature death in United States. Guys that smoke how far you really… Smoking has been implicated lung cancer, bladder cancer, pharyngeal cancer, pancreatic cancer, oesophageal cancer.
- Alcohol consumption – has been implicated in oesphageal cancer, liver, pharynx.
- Diet – Excess of synthetic foods implicated in colorectal cancer.
- Environmental carcinogens – like arsenic, radiations, asbestos, etc
- Reproductive history – fibroid is very common in women 35 years and above that have never been pregnant. Endometrial cancer is reduced in pregnancy than in non pregnant women.
- Age – most cancers occur at older age. >55years.
- Chronic inflammation –
- Immune suppression
HALLMARK OF CANCER
These are things that make cancers, cancer. They are common in all cancers found in man. So they are the defining factors that make cancers what they are.
- SELF SUFFICIENCY IN GROWTH SIGNALLING – This means that cancers do not need external factors to stimulate them to grow. They have all their need in themselves, they need nobody’s help.
- INSENSITIVITY TO GROWTH INHIBITORY FACTORS – They do not respond to any inhibitory factor telling them to stop growing. They are insensitive to growth inhibitory factors.
- ALTERED CELLULAR METABOLISM – They do not derive their energy and food from the body’s energy pool. They have their own separate.
- EVASION OF APOPTOSIS – Apoptosis means programmed cell death. Every cell is programmed to die at a specific time. But cancer cells get strong head – like the proverbial cat with nine lives. Cancer cells evade this programmed cell death and live forever.
- LIMITLESS REPLICATIVE POTENTIAL (IMMORTAL) – There is no limit to the extent cancer cells can divide. They keep dividing, unabated, limitlessly. Immortal!
- SUSTAINED ANGIOGENESIS – They supply themselves with their own blood. They don’t depend on the body for blood supply.
- ABILITY TO INVADE AND METASTASIZE – Cancer cells can spread to a distance in the body.
- ABILITY TO EVADE HOST IMMUNE RESPONSE – Immune system cannot recognize them. They are invisible.
EPIDEMIOLOGY OF CANCER – How common is cancer?
In 2008 , it was estimated that there are about 12.7Million new cancer cases worldwide.
This caused about 7.6 million deaths. Due to increase in population size and age, by 2030 it’s been projected that cancer cases would be around 21 million with about 13 million deaths.
How to prevent cancer
You have already seen a fee risk factors above, try avoid them:
- Quit smoking
- Moderate alcohol
- Eat fresh foods, eat healthy
- Treat all infections
- Practice safe sex
- Get pregnant, it is protective against many cancer. That means you need to marry early.
- Loose some weight
Hope this is informative! Thank you.